Ferguson Solidarity Statement From South Africa
We are writing to you from South Africa as a collective of black students, professionals, artists, writers and activists who have been watching the protests in Ferguson and other parts of the United States.
Although we are separated from each other by vast oceans and large tracts of land, our connectedness remains a bond as inextricable as it was the day your forebears made that sad and dreadful voyage through the middle passage. That bond is less a claim of being blood relatives or that we all have roots in the motherland but that our black skin has been marked for violence and death since the beginning of slavery.
Resistance to anti-black violence has historically been crushed each time it emerged, whether on the African continent, in the US or anywhere else in the world. And yet you, knowing this full well, have refused to let the gratuitous violence and murder of black people pass as a condition that is part and parcel of being black in the world. You have chosen to fight back, to put your bodies on the firing line, and it is this courage that has inspired us to write to you.
In August 2012, 34 black mine workers were massacred by the police in the mining town of Marikana, here in South Africa. The miners were protesting for higher salaries at a mine owned by the British company, Lonmin. On the day of the massacre, 327 live rounds were shot by the police into a crowd of miners who were at that very moment dispersing to their respective homes, having gathered for several days outside the premises of the company. Bizarrely, 270 miners who survived the attack were arrested and charged with murdering their 34 colleagues even though the massacre was in the full view of local and international media showing the onslaught on mine workers by the police. These charges were later dropped but prove the extent to which Blacks are criminalized even when they themselves are targets of terror. Although a commission of enquiry was launched to investigate the events leading up to the massacre it is highly unlikely that top politicians and Lonmin executives will be brought to book for the murders. Here in South Africa, as is the case in the U.S. the murder of black people by the police is hardly a punishable offense, such is the devaluation of black life.
There are, in the details of the Marikana massacre so many parallels with the cases of Michael Brown, Trayvon Martin, Eric Garner, Tamir Rice and countless others that we are moved to conclude that police around the world, whenever they encounter black people – without consultation with each other – operate on the very same mandate of maximum force seemingly reserved exclusively for blacks. And one need not incite them to violence; our skin is provocation enough.
This state of affairs stretches over centuries and neither the “end” of slavery nor that of apartheid here in South Africa have brought any of us a bit of relief. The world celebrated with us in 1994 when former President Nelson Mandela was the first black to lead the country after apartheid and with your country men and women more than a decade later when President Barack Obama was elected. Yet, despite these changes, vulnerability to violence still defines us and defies our geographical space and time.
It is as though time has hardly moved. Doesn’t Assata Shakur’s description of being shot by the police over 40 years ago prove exactly that?
“He then drew his gun, pointed it at us and told us to put our hands up in the air in front of us where he could see them. I complied and in a split second there was a sound that came from outside the car, there was a sudden movement and I was shot once with my hand held up in the air and then once again from the back.”
These moments of crisis involving police brutality in both our countries are an opportunity for us all to reflect on the global nature of this problem but to also think in broad terms of our relationship as black people with the police. Towards the end of his “Letter from Birmingham Jail”, the late Dr Martin Luther King suggests that even when the police act ‘non-violently’ towards black protestors, for instance, their intention is to “use moral means (non-violence) to attain immoral ends” (the preservation of the anti-black status quo). From contemporary black scholars we have learnt that from the very beginning, the modern police force was created specifically to keep black people in check and this remains its primary objective. These interesting perspectives suggest that we have much digging up to do even in moments of relative “peace” and hopefully in the near future we may embark on collective action.
In conclusion, we have written to you, our dear brothers and sisters, to remind you that you are not alone and that as blacks denied the enviable status of being fully human, we only have each other. And so, with this short letter, we offer you our solidarity and love. May your movement grow from strength to strength.
Yours in revolutionary spirit
Dineo Seshee Bopape
Azola Anele Goqwana
Huey P Orleyn