Black Lives Matter: All Black Lives Matter
Updated: Jun 23, 2020
On 16 June 2020, Zimbabweans marched hand and hand in a peaceful protest fully aware of the dangers of police brutality; previously the Zimbabwean police have gone from door to door shooting and beating people who had attended other protests. In January 2019, during a protest about the increase in fuel prices three people were killed by the police. Subsequently, the police killed another 12 people and 78 people were left with gunshot wounds (Bearak, 2020). This was just one of the most recent examples, but in Zimbabwe police and army brutality is a common occurrence. People are murdered and sometimes mysteriously disappear and there is no record of any of it, especially not on the internet. Sadly it seems that in many third world countries, and African countries, in particular, injustices like this seem to escape the attention of the media.
Some Zimbabweans amongst other Africans have noticed this and a common question has begun to rise between them; do African black lives matter less? A student from Angola, Israel Campos, said: “We are having this same discussion in Angola. There is a sense that black American/European lives matter more than black African lives. Some people in Angola did not even join the #BlackLivesMatter movement and its protests because they defend that the issue of racism has to be tackled regardless of where it happens.”
The recent focus on the Black Lives Matter movement was sparked by the murder of George Floyd in the USA. His death was tragic and the complete injustice of it prompted a social media uproar. In South Africa, people marched in protest of the death of Floyd while only two months before that Collins Khosa, an innocent South African, was murdered by police in Johannesburg over a cup of beer in his yard (Floyd Killing Finds Echoes of Abuse in South Africa, Kenya, 2020). Although most people agree that the Black Lives Matter movement needed to rise again and change the flawed system, some can’t help but feel their lives have been disregarded time and time again.
Social media has provided a crucial platform for black voices. It is extremely important to educate the ignorant, share experiences and ideas for change and to start a much-needed conversation. However, it has hit close to home for the people of Africa who have experienced a constant disregard of their lives for centuries. To put their pain into some perspective, the rate of people killed by law enforcement in America is 46.6 per 10 million people, and the rate in South Africa is alarmingly higher at 76.9 per 10 million people (List of killings by law enforcement officers by country, 2020). Of the people killed by the police in America, an estimated 21% of them were black (People shot to death by U.S. police, by race 2020 | Statista, 2020) while a vast majority of the people killed by police in South Africa are black. This is not meant to disregard the awful systematic racism present in the United States, it is just a demonstration of how many black African lives are lost to police brutality amongst other things such as xenophobic attacks, tribalism and colourism.
However, not all people from African countries see the current situation as unfair. Thandeka Nkomo, a Zimbabwean citizen who is currently residing in the USA said: “It’s not a victim competition. It’s a known fact that media coverage of black and brown countries is different but it doesn’t downplay the injustices. It’s a bigger racist issue. We need to focus on the bigger racism. This is more than just a representation issue, it’s a human rights issue. Americans are equipped with the technology and news coverage to raise such issues to a greater global network. While countries with less access to resources like social media die in silence. Most black or brown countries, including those in Africa, cannot exercise ‘freedom of speech’ to address such issues without fear of repercussions.” This is very true for African countries such as Zimbabwe, whose citizens fear speaking to the media about injustices going on around them, as they fear being persecuted by law enforcement.
Thembekile Moyo, a Zimbabwean citizen studying in South Africa, agreed with this as she said: “I am for and support this movement. It’s about time something happened. It’s everywhere, it’s raising awareness but it’s also quite triggering.” Another Zimbabwean, Tinotendaishe Manzanga, said: "I am glad to see the BLM movement getting the attention it deserves and bringing justice for families and those we have lost. It’s starting necessary conversations and black people are being given a chance to speak.” Social media has given more people a chance to highlight injustices they have experienced or witnessed, and for these to be shared more widely and even noticed by larger media corporations.
Tinotendiashe goes on to explain that in some African countries, racism is often not the main factor endangering black lives and maybe that is why it is less covered by the media: "In regards to the BLM movement, racism in third world countries is rather subtle in my opinion. The racism we face does not result in murder. In general, third world countries are dealing with many problems, problems which more developed countries may not be facing or may be facing on a smaller scale. We tend to say “there are bigger fish to fry” and that is true. Africans have to survive under the oppressive and corrupt rule, we are not living in freedom. Africans have to worry about how they will get their next meal so I think racism is often the last thing on our minds. I do not blame the media for overlooking our problems when it comes to racism because, for us, racism is not the most urgent issue." However, she does also acknowledge that every African country is vastly different and experiences different levels of racism.
Just because African countries have a black majority, does not mean that they don’t also experience systematic racism. Some African countries experience more intense systematic racism than others. Thembekile Moyo highlights this as she said: “I believe systematic racism is present in Zimbabwe, however it does not appear to be as intense as other countries such as South Africa." Systematic racism in South Africa is a huge problem as Apartheid and segregation only ended in 1990 and the effects of it are still visibly present today. South Africans may experience inequality in terms of employement and job opportunities because of systematic racism, whereas Thembekile feels that, "in terms of opportunity, all races appear to have the if not equal, nearly equal chances of employment in different sectors and black people hold high and very prestigious posts in their sector of employment".
However, systematic racism is clearly present in other aspects of society in Zimbabwe, including the private school system. Thembekile said: “ My personal experience of systematic racism was in high school where the school had a full boarding system with dormitories divided by form groups. However there was one specific hostel in which all the white girls were placed, this hostel was much nicer than the hostel the black girls were put into in terms of facilities and general aesthetics. Although it was quite obvious that there was separation, none of us black girls bothered to ask and the school didn’t bother to explain. Yes, we were curious but it just didn’t bother us because of the systematic racism that had brainwashed us to think that’s how it’s always going to be. “Whites always get better”. Eventually, a black girl’s parents brought it to the attention of the Ministry of Education but only then was there change.”
Thandeka Nkomo commented on a very similar experience of systematic racism within her high school where there was an, “ideology that there could never be two black head girls and that the system had to go according to a black-white ratio to occupy the top two executive roles”.
Moving forward it will be interesting to see if our systems are dismantled and rebuilt in a better way to be more inclusive instead of exclusive. The protests going on all over the world are receiving a lot of media attention. Some may feel that the media is paying too much attention to the protests in America and not enough to the actual stories of people who have faced injustice. However, some people see this as an opportunity to be heard, as protestors draw the attention of the world toward the problem that sparked them in the first place. This enables the stories of others who have experienced similar injustices to be amplified.
Bearak, M., 2020.Security Forces In Zimbabwe Kill 12 People In Broadest Crackdown On Unrest In Years. [online] The Washington Post. Available at: <https://www.washingtonpost.com/world/africa/security-forces-in-zimbabwe-kill-12-protesters-in-broadest-crackdown-on-unrest-in-years/2019/01/21/ceafcef6-1cf0-11e9-a759-2b8541bbbe20_story.html> [Accessed 23 June 2020].
Voice of America. 2020.Floyd Killing Finds Echoes Of Abuse In South Africa, Kenya. [online] Available at: <https://www.voanews.com/africa/floyd-killing-finds-echoes-abuse-south-africa-kenya> [Accessed 23 June 2020].
En.wikipedia.org. 2020.List Of Killings By Law Enforcement Officers By Country. [online] Available at: <https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/List_of_killings_by_law_enforcement_officers_by_country> [Accessed 23 June 2020].
Statista. 2020.People Shot To Death By U.S. Police, By Race 2020 | Statista. [online] Available at: <https://www.statista.com/statistics/585152/people-shot-to-death-by-us-police-by-race/> [Accessed 23 June 2020].