File picture: Kirsty Wigglesworth/AP
File picture: Kirsty Wigglesworth/AP

Africans need to lead by example in valuing black lives

By Tshepo Matseba Time of article published Jun 14, 2020

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The value placed on black lives was determined many decades ago and cemented into the minds of South Africans of all colours through legislation and socio-economic action.

What we see today has become deep-rooted, thanks to many decades of socialisation through a combination of overt and covert action.

South Africa has a very long history, some estimated 300 years, during which the lives of its black citizens never mattered.

It is easy to explain away the conditions under which black lives were forced to exist during the colonial era and apartheid, when everything was designed to work against them, humiliate them, rob them of their human dignity and bring them to their knees.

It is harder to understand how their collective dream would have been deferred once colonialism and apartheid ended, and the leadership of their country was electorally handed over to a majority black-led government that was expected to undo the harm and bring them back on their feet, standing tall with their chins up.

Could it be that the experience of disrespecting themselves and other blacks has become deep-rooted in African leaders that they do not realise their actions are similar to those of the people who ruled over them in the past?

If not, what could explain the seeming nonchalance with which black lives have continued to be taken, even under black governance? It seems easier to condemn whites when they take black lives and to treat it as a betrayal to fellow blacks when people mention the mass massacre of miners in Marikana, in August 2012; the Matebeleland massacres of the mid-1980s in Zimbabwe; or the Darfur killings in Sudan, all of which were black-on-black massacres led by the security forces of governments by black leaders.

Just like George Floyd in the US, Collins Khosa’s murder by security forces was not the first of its kind. There are dozens of videos circulating on social media depicting the cruelty of American policemen using excessive force that ended in the death of mostly African-Americans.

In South Africa, death at the hands of police count among the highest in the world. There have also been other deaths and injuries that resulted in excessive use of force by security forces during the Covid-19 lockdown.

Sadly, while the global reaction to Floyd’s murder was spontaneous, the same cannot be said of local reaction to Khosa’s murder. South Africans were happy to jump onto the global bandwagon of outrage against the US murder. They were reminded by local voices of their silence over the death of Khosa and the attempts by the defence minister to whitewash the implicated SANDF members.

Khosa’s name and image were therefore added only in hindsight, almost to save face, to posters condemning the US murder of Floyd. To add to the confusion, if not to the insult, campaign messaging wrongly gave the impression that the two black men were killed for the same reasons, even referencing white racism.

Africans cannot expect others to respect and value black lives if they do not lead by example. Emotional blackmail of others, even in cases where facts referencing the sad history of the plight of black lives can be cited, cannot alone ensure that black lives matter.

The world will begin to fear dishonouring black lives only when it sees Africa placing a higher value on them.

* Tshepo Matseba is the former president of Prisa and MD at Reputation 1st Group. He is also non-executive director at the Institute of People Management.

** The views expressed here are not necessarily those of IOL.

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