AFRICA Day on May 25 was marked by the tragedy of George Floyd’s murder at the hands of racist police officers in the US. For many it underscores the fact that the scourge of racism, and the humiliation and dehumanisation of black people, is alive and well, most particularly in the US.
AU Commission Chair Moussa Faki Mahamat has described Floyd’s death as an act of murder.
“We firmly reaffirm and reiterate the AU’s rejection of continuing discriminatory practices against black citizens of the US.”
South Africa and Namibia are among the few African governments that have issued official statements in the wake of Floyd’s murder.
Africa has not seen the rolling protests taking place in many cities around the world, but given the danger of Covid-19 contagion, this may be for the best.
But given the solidarity that African-Americans showed African countries during the period of decolonisation, and also with the anti-apartheid movement, it is surprising that more African governments haven’t condemned police brutality in the US and stood with the African-American community at this time.
International Relations Minister Naledi Pandor, speaking on behalf of President Cyril Ramaphosa, has called on leaders in the US to “work together to end violence and develop a set of measures that would serve to end the insecurity and harm experienced by many members of the African-American community”.
“Just as the people of America supported South Africa in its legitimate struggle against apartheid, South Africa too supports the clarion calls for practical action to address the inadequacies highlighted by protesters, civil society, and human rights organisations,” Pandor said.
The ANC has also spoken out, expressing concern that police brutality against African-Americans is on the increase and emphasising the systemic nature of racism in the US.
“It is inescapable that American society places a perilously low value on black lives... People of colour are routinely slaughtered due to the colour of their skin,” the ANC said, calling on Ramaphosa to engage with the US government.
Minister of International Relations in Namibia Netumbo Nandi-Ndaitwah has expressed Namibia’s deep outrage and condemned the brutal murder of Floyd by the US police.
“The government of Namibia expresses its solidarity with African-American sisters and brothers and calls on all to exercise restraint in venting their legitimate and justified anger.
“Racism is a crime against humanity and should have no place in any society anywhere in the world. We call on the government of the US to deploy all efforts at ensuring that the rights and human dignity of all its citizens, including in particular African-Americans and all other minorities, are upheld, respected and protected under law.”
While Zimbabwe hasn’t issued an official statement on Floyd’s death, it has responded to the outrageous accusation of Trump’s national security adviser Robert O’Brien that Russia, China, Iran and Zimbabwe are adversaries which are using unrest to stoke tensions in the US.
Zimbabwean foreign minister Sibusiso Moyo has called such an accusation false and without factual foundation. The US ambassador in Zimbabwe has also been summoned over O’Brien’s statement.
Despite the fact that African leaders may not be weighing in as expected, some US diplomats based on the continent are speaking out against what is happening in their own country.
US ambassador to Zimbabwe Brian Nichols, who is African-American, took a much more personal tone: “As an African-American, for as long as I can remember I have known that my rights and my body were not fully my own.”
The US embassies in Kenya and Uganda felt compelled to speak out, and have said they are “deeply troubled by Floyd’s death in police custody. Government officials should not operate with impunity in any country”.
Protests have taken place in Nigeria and Liberia. Floyd’s murder has been a stark reminder to Nigerians of police killings in their own country.
According to the Nigerian national human rights commission, as of mid-April police have killed more people in Nigeria than Covid-19.
There have also been shocking instances of brutality by police and soldiers in South Africa which need to be addressed.
South Africa has arrested more people than any other country in lockdown - over 230 000. Police and soldiers have killed 13 South Africans during the lockdown, with only Nigeria and Kenyan security forces killing more people.
On Good Friday, soldiers entered the house of Collins Khosa in Alexandra, accusing him of violating the lockdown regulations.
Khosa’s family say that he had been eating dinner inside and was dragged outside, slammed against a cement wall, kicked, punched and beaten with a rifle.
He died later of what the autopsy called “blunt force” injuries.
Military authorities exonerated the soldiers implicated in his death, although the family is challenging this in court.