Second place winner in the Essay Writing Competition Against Racism

What is the value of a Black life in South Africa today? The question may seem
unnecessary to many, ridiculous to others. Is it not obvious that all human life,
irrespective of gender, nationality, race or whatever category, is of immeasurable
and inherent value. Our history and our present world appear abundant with people,
structures and systems that treat human life with callous indifferences. There is
something incredibly bizarre about having to convince the world of our personhood
and our right to honor, respect and worthiness. Centuries after slavery and decades
after colonialism, Black people are still fighting to be seen, heard, and protected; it is
genuinely beyond that which I can comprehend. It is funny how the world has
different time zones, how it can be Saturday on one part of the world and Friday on
the other, yet somehow South Africa is stuck in 1948. In a nutshell, I will share a
personal experience of being a Black person in South Africa and why I think Black
lives do not matter in South Africa today.
When I was 11 years old I went to ‘’pick’’ peaches in a wooded area not far from
where we lived in Soweto, with a group of neighborhood boys. It ended up being the
first and only time in my life I have been shot at with a slingshot. It was also the first
time I was called a k*ffir by a white person. One of the things that became clear, and
which was actually rather disturbing to me, was the fact that my Black life did not
matter too much to a white person. The old white man came out of nowhere
screaming the K-word and other threatening obscenities at the top of his lungs, while
shooting at us. The white man was quite pulchritudinous and possessed a raucous
voice. Fortunately for us, he was not a very good shot or we were too fast for him to
line up properly and we all got away safely. It has to be said that there’s nothing
scarier than hearing and feeling stones whizzing past you and wondering if you are
about to get injured for picking some peaches from a tree.
The value of my Black life was diminished by the white man as he prioritized his
peaches over our lives. It was at this moment that I realized that when you start
looking at people’s hearts instead of their face life becomes clear. I told my parents
about the encounter and they called the police. The police said we were trespassing
and the man was within his rights to protect his property. My parents were so angry.
Trembling, all my dad could say was, ‘’Son, to that man and those cops, those
peaches were worth more than your lives. Stay away from white people because
they would shoot you rather than to look at you.’’ My dad’s words have stayed with
me up until this very day. That warning was another variation of the ‘’talk ‘’ that pretty
much all Black parents have with their children. I’m reminded of that warning every
time I hear the slogan: ‘’Black Lives Matter’’. I’m also reminded of that paternal
warning every time I see another unarmed Black person shot or killed in South Africa
over stuff as seemingly unimportant as picking peaches from a tree. This incident
was minor compared to incidents that have occurred in South Africa, but I share this
anecdote to give an example of the invisibility of black lives in South Africa.
For most of our history in South Africa the category, human has not embraced Black
people, its abstractness has been colored white and gendered male. South Africa
has a very long history, during which the lives of its black citizens have never
mattered. Black people in South Africa remain in circumstances that are
misrepresentative of their worth, and blackness continues to be a barrier to a decent
livelihood. An example of this is the recent evictions of people living in the
predominantly black Khayelitsha township of Cape Town. According to NewAfrican,
a resident at Khayelitsha, Bulelani Qolani, was dragged naked from his shack. Today
we should ask ourselves, where has the South Africa united by love, peace and
Ubuntu gone to? According to International Online, in most recent times, 11 Black
South Africans have died at the hands of law enforcement agencies during the
lockdown regulations. What makes me sad is the fact that our government has
demonstrated no concern for these deaths, and little remorse to the families. These
were Black lives that were trying to survive under difficult circumstances of the
lockdown. This shows us that we live in a country where our leadership undermines
the value of Black lives.
The government of today that is asking us to join the Americans in solidarity with
George Floyd and the Black Lives Matter campaign is the same government that has
demonstrated time and time again that in South Africa, too often Black lives do not
matter. Sadly, while the global reaction to Floyd’s murder was spontaneous, the
same cannot be said of local reaction to Collins Khosa’s murder at the hands of the
South African National Defense Force during the lockdown period. South Africans
were happy to jump onto the global bandwagon of outrage against the US murder.
South Africans forgot about the life of the black man that was taken in Alexandra and
had to be reminded by local voices of their silence over the death of Khosa. This
event highlights the point I am constructing, which is, Black lives do not matter in
South Africa today. As a country we should be equally outraged at the fact that
police brutality affects black lives disproportionately in our country. The longstanding
problem is that today in South Africa the police continue to criminalize and brutalize
Black people. With great absurdity, the South African mentality enforces the reality of
acting White equating to acting right.
‘’The hardest thing to open is a closed mind’’, these are famous words by the great
Ahmed Kathrada. Black lives should matter to black people first, but what we see in
our country is the exact reflection of Ahmed Kathrada’s words. There exists a
hierarchy where some Black lives have more value than others. The lives of our
African brothers and sisters from other countries are of minimal worth to Black South
Africans. Xenophobic violence is a routine event in this country. Soon after

BlackLivesMatter trended, South African twitter saw the hashtags

NigeriansMustGo and #NigeriaMustFall trending. Recent reports indicate that

xenophobic violence has increased under the banner of ‘Operation Dudula’, which
targets migrant owned homes and businesses. In one highly publicized incident in
April 2022, a 43 year old Zimbabwean national was killed in Diepsloot by a group
going door to door demanding passports. The attackers beat him and set him on fire.
These are the same individuals who will then flounder and cry out the words, Black
lives matter; meanwhile they are the perpetrators of the same Black lives they are
crying for. Until Black lives matter to Black people we are still far from saying Black
lives matter in South Africa today. As long as we still experience xenophobic attacks
in our country, we cannot meaningfully say Black lives matter in South Africa.
Have you ever thought of what our country would look like if we were all accepting of
each other? So many tragedies happen in our everyday life just because of our skin
color. Most of these Black lives are innocent individuals trying to make it in this
world. I have researched and read on innocent Black lives that died without a reason
in South Africa, Collins Khosa, and Sibusiso Amos. Not everyone is treated the same
and it takes a death to make people realize that something needs to be changed in
South Africa. When we say black lives matter in South Africa, we are saying Black
women matter, Black girls matter, Black LGBTQI lives matter, Black immigrants
matter, Black differently abled bodies matter, Black boys and men matter. We cannot
meaningfully say all these black lives matter in South Africa today.
As long as corruption steals food parcels and social grants from intended
beneficiaries, it cannot meaningfully be said that Black lives matter. As long as police
brutality is perpetrated against black bodies, it cannot meaningfully be said that
Black lives matter. As long as Black children in our poorest communities are
deprived of quality education to give them the best chance at a brighter future, it
cannot meaningfully be said that black lives matter in South Africa today. We should
work on building a new South Africa where black lives matter, in the immortal words
of Ahmed Kathrada:’’ To build a strong foundation for a new country, the elements of
forgiveness, absence of wickedness, absence of hatred, absence of revenge, is very
Hence Black lives do not matter in South Africa today.



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