From Cape Town to Charleston
We find ourselves in a particular moment, do we not?
Whatever misty hued, carefully crafted feelings of optimism leftover from the flag-independence of the states across the third world and whatever hope of a forward progression towards equal treatment for third world diaspora, in the empires of old – that now are masquerading as saviours – has clearly continued to crack along the fissures of the stain-glassed chaos of a mosaic that is the world of now.
In South Africa, we approach the anniversary of a dark day in our history that unfortunately occupies it’s place in the long list of acts of outright police brutality against black bodies. State violence and it’s collusion with economic interests are a well-documented affair, white patriarchal power and its influence over these structures provide the framing of an insidious machine that digs through the earth in search of rocks and stones that carry more value than black life itself.
Since the date of the incident, 16th August 2012, The massacre of Marikana has been regarded as the most vicious display of police violence in the country since 1960, during the apartheid regime. The incident occurred when mine workers in an area called “Marikana” near Rustenburg had engaged in protests demanding a wage raise directed at their employers, a mine owned by a company named “Lonmin”. The South African Police force, who arrive to “control” the scene, went on to kill 34 miners and injure a further 78 over the course of the confrontation between the protestors and the state police.
The case itself is presently under investigation however the incident which implicates the ruling party, the African National Congress (ANC), has since shown little signs of producing an outcome that will hold the parties involved accountable – let alone make steps towards justice.
“Lonmin” or “London Mining Company” was formally a mining division of “Lonrho” or “London Rhodes”..
“Cecil John Rhodes”
Is name that is synonymous with the colonial era history of much of Southern Africa and who played an integral role in expanding the British Empire through this region through his rapidly growing wealth derived from his mining company, De Beers.
In recent times a student, staff and workers protest organising under the banner of #RhodesMustFall, at the University of Cape Town, called for, as but one of its demands, the immediate removal of a statue of Rhodes from its position at the center of the mountain side campus. The much discussed statue symbolically represented the spectre of the ghost of colonialists, like Rhodes himself, that have yet to be excorcised from lives of the present day.
The campaign caught the imagination and clearly lit the fire of fear of what unapologetic decolonial rage would mean for the mythically reconciled South Africa. Much like the rainbow celebrated in its famous identity construction, the youth of South Africa have steadily found little substance to subdue the realisation that very little has changed.
These realisations have of course not happened in isolation, in an era where news from the United States hegemonically occupies multiple media channels across the globe, with particular veracity in the English speaking world, the #BlackLivesMatter movement, initiated by four black women, has captured the attention, attention and solidarity from peoples from all corners of the Earth.
The unrelenting state violence against black bodies in the US operates in a context that has time and time again revealed the unending links from slave ships to private prisons. Articulated by prolific writers, enigmatic political and cultural leaders and now it seems clear that the so called leaderless movement #BlackLivesMatter is clearly but the latest chapter in a long story of struggle.
From this context, in the so called Black Radical tradition of political thought, links between the fate of the geographical continent “Africa” and peoples who regarded themselves as proud members of its Diaspora, emphasised the necessity of connecting the struggles between black peoples from different contexts, in part, as a tool towards ending white supremacy, whose very position is predicated on our persistent subjugation from the level of the global political economy all the way down to the scale of the interpersonal.
It is in light of this intergenerational transnational call for solidarity that even now, writing from Cape Town in the wake of the daunting list of issues at our own doorstep, it becomes necessary to bolster movements that are inextricably tied to the fate of our own.
On 17th June 2015 following weeks of escalating protests across the United States along with an unrelenting death count a mass shooting took place taking 9 lives in Charleston, South Carolina. The shooting itself was carried out by a young white man by the name of Dylan Roof who had been photographed adorning a jacket with the flag of the South African apartheid government and several other images most notably including the former US confederate flag reigniting widespread debate around its use and what it represents.
In the wake of the mourning of this tragedy calls to pull down the confederate flag permanently had caused political deliberations within multiple state institutions and before long these processes were met with radical action from activist, Bree Newsome, who on the 28th June, scaled a flagpole outside the South Carolina State House, physically removing the flag in an act of righteous defiance.
Newsome’s act when seen in parallel to the actions surrounding #RhodesMustFall demonstrate the appetite and potential for utilizing so called civil disobedience under tacit if not explicit associations of Black Power movements that are once again putting forward to the imagination of the public the present state of urgency of the black condition.
From late June of 2015 to early July an increasing number of churches have been set on fire across several of the southern states in the US from South Carolina to Mississippi. The churches , with historically black constituencies have been perceived as linked to the escalating racialised violence in the region and while these incidents are presently under investigation for suspected arson the media coverage surrounding these clearly connected events appears suspiciously minimal.
I would go as far as to argue that the growing flurry of publications, particularly in the online space, that generate tremendous web traffic on a daily basis marketing and milking so called black cultural products and popularised intersectional politics, too often applied to pop cultural icons and the fanfare that embodies that experience, are purposefully misleading the “public” in an attempt to deradicalise black power sentiments among young people.
This coming from a country who’s media networks have made concerted efforts to develop fear and contempt for the Middle East as a region, it’s people and Islam their most dominant religion in the name of national security and the so called “War on Terror”.
The War on Terror, through this disproportionate reactions, clearly has shape and direction. One can hardly resist the provocations of the late Malcolm X, who insisted that the US does not perceive so called black Americans full citizens.. And while much from that context has changed, many things remain the same. The inability of the US to recognise these actions as Domestic terrorism, in fact their resistance to do so, demonstrates the continued crisis of citizenship in the mirage that constitutes the postcolonial state.
This misinformation if not, pacification, of masses of young people on a daily basis draws on the imagination of historical state projects such as COINTELPRO, whose aims and objectives largely were concerned with the dismantling and deradicalising the Black Panther movement. Admittedly while some may remain sceptical of possibility of a state program of that nature existing in the present day I would caution, at the very least, a cursory thought to the possibility of mass media manipulation in an attempt to curb what could be another pivotal moment in the continued bid for the liberation of black peoples.
Intentional or unthinking the balance of coverage and it’s effects, I contend are self evident.
With this in mind, I am left to ponder and wonder and the task ahead of us, I consider the thoughts of my friend, comrade and fellow community organiser from the #RhodesMustFall movement..
“How does it feel to be a problem” – Masixole Mlandu
In this declaration, always delivered with a smile that does little to cover the cunning of its intension, we are reminded of our position.
Uncomfortable as it is.
We remind ourselves of the Bree Newsome’s, the countless others before her and the innumerable courageous minds and hearts that are yet to born.
We are reminded that Freedom is not given,
Freedom is seized.
And history shows, if we are to move forward it will be..
By any means necessary.
From Cape Town to Charleston.