On Sunday, 14 June 2020, a group of South Africans gathered at Constitution Hill in Johannesburg to add their voices to the global #BlackLivesMatter movement. The gathering, which took the form of a vigil, was not only meant to show solidarity with black people in the USA and their anger at the violent deaths of black people at the hands of police officers, but also to raise awareness of issues that matter to South Africans. Since the death of George Floyd in Minneapolis on 25 May 2020, the #BlackLivesMatter movement has received strong support and solidarity from sympathisers worldwide, including in South Africa. The Black Lives Matter Solidarity SA (also known as BLM Solidarity SA) movement was formed in response to the recent events in the USA.
Black Lives Matter Solidarity SA
Black people in South Africa strongly identify with the challenges African-Americans face not only because black trauma and black pain transcend national borders but also because African-Americans supported the liberation struggle for decades. Black civil rights activists, such as the Reverend Jesse Jackson, and artists, such as Harry Belafonte, played a key role in the American anti-apartheid campaign. During the 1980s African-Americans were among the strongest advocates for sanctions against the apartheid regime. It is for this reason that local activists, such as Thandiwe Ntshinga of the BLM Solidarity SA, argues that “their [African-Americans] suffering is our suffering”.
In much the same way that the international anti-apartheid movement of the seventies and eighties had spawned similar movements in many countries, did the #BlackLivesMatter movement spread across the globe and gave birth to more than 40 chapters. While the #BlackLivesMatter movement in the USA is, for now, primarily concerned with police violence and brutality against people of colour, similar but also other issues fuel movements in the rest of the world. This is especially the case in African countries and countries with a significant presence of the black diaspora.
Discrimination is often intersectional
In South Africa black trauma and black pain are strongly related to violence against black people. Ironically, the perpetrators are people of all colours, genders, classes and backgrounds. In addition to the vulnerability of black people in general, BLM Solidarity SA also wants to emphasise the issue of black women’s lives, queer black lives and the lives of African immigrants, many of them undocumented. Gender-based violence, intolerance towards the LGBTQI+ community, and xenophobic attacks against foreigners, are among the issues BLM Solidarity SA wants to tackle. Many of these issues are intersectional, in other words, social categorisations, such as race, ethnicity, class, disability, sexuality and gender are often interconnected. For example, a queer black woman may face discrimination on different levels, for different reasons and in different contexts. This issue stresses the complex nature of racism and discrimination in South Africa.
Struggle heroes of the past
While the #BlackLivesMatter movement in the USA is a fairly recent phenomenon and may be traced back to 2013 when it was initiated in response to the acquittal of Trayvon Martin’s murderer, the issues which the movement confront are deeply-rooted in history. In fact, issues such as racism, discrimination, prejudice and the devaluation of black people’s lives in general, date back to the time of slavery and colonialism. This sad reality, which all of humanity has inherited, runs like a thread through South African history. In South Africa black people’s lives have been devalued and brutalised by dispossession, eviction, forced removals, mass shootings, police brutality, torture and humiliation, to name a few.
While it is important to honour those who have spearheaded the various #BlackLivesMatter movements, it is also important for South Africa’s youth – those who are fighting in the trenches – to honour the struggle heroes of the past. These veterans have pioneered resistance actions during a time before hashtags and social media have become tools in the struggle for social justice. In Bloemfontein and the Free State people such as Henry Selby Msimang, Caleb Motshabi, Pieter Swarts and BP Leinaeng, to name just a few, fought for black people’s human rights and dignity during a time when doing so came with very real dangers and risks.
The National Museum declares solidarity with the various #BlackLivesMatter movements and honours the struggle heroes of South Africa’s past. They are the trailblazers of black people’s resistance against racial injustice.
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