Just Leaders and Black Lives Matter: thoughts and reflections from CSA&G staff

By Pierre Brouard, Chris Jourbert, Vuyisa Mamanzi and Tumelo Rasebopye

Pierre Brouard – introduction

Pierre BrouardIt would be an underestimation to say that we are caught up in a critical global moment around racial justice – well it feels global, though it might be true to say that beyond Covid-19, other parts of the globe are caught up in their own social justice struggles (Hong Kong, China, India, Russia come to mind). The struggle I am referring to is the Black Lives Matter (BLM) protest movement in the US, in the wake of the killing of George Floyd, echoed by mass protests in many countries, especially the UK where the disproportionate policing of black bodies has always been an issue.[1]

In South Africa we have also seen protests in support of the BLM movement, and our government has made a call for three consecutive “black Fridays” in solidarity with BLM. Our own context has brought an added nuance, in that there have been protests around the killing of Collins Khoza and others in the wake of heavy handed lockdown enforcement. In the private school, and Model C sector there are calls from many former and current black students for a reckoning around schools which are racist and have had a history of exclusion. This is not a new phenomenon, but I believe the current wave of protests is inspired by BLM; they are a call for long overdue action in the many private schools struggling to transform.

However a young black man of my acquaintance was scathing about these private school protests, calling them out for what he said was their middle class privilege.

Writing in the Mail and Guardian[2] , William Shoki argues that a class analysis offers a better insight into current forms of oppression here. Noting that South African incidents of police murder in this country, per capita, are actually three times higher than in America, Shoki suggests that the role of the police as a professional body of law enforcers is not a response to crime, but is a response to the threat that collective [working class] action poses to elite rule, and the unequal social arrangements which undergird it.

Identification with the victimisation of black Americans, he says, “reveals an unwillingness to confront the class character of police repression. So long as there is a capitalist state entrenching private property relations, there will always be some kind of security apparatus to defend it”. In the US this has racism coded into its logic of operation, and in South Africa, class relations.

What we need to do, he suggests, is to embrace and channel rage and protest towards the objective of a better world beyond capitalism.

Of course he is not arguing that the anti-racism project in South Africa is complete, nor that we should not support Black Lives Matter protests. Our history of Colonialism and apartheid harm means that we are still not transformed. I have worked in the school setting and many black students speak movingly, and with anger, about micro aggressions and racism (conscious and unconscious) that they see and feel every day. George Floyd’s death was a trigger, Shoki’s analysis notwithstanding, for many South Africans, mostly black South Africans it could be argued, who feel, at a deeply personal and visceral level, the hurts and rage of history, far and recent.

Here are some thoughts and feelings from CSA&G colleagues on these recent events.

Chris Joubert

Chris JoubertI think people often forget how influential identity truly is. It is easy to tell someone to not care about what others think of you.   How well does that truly work?  What happens when those who are meant to lead and protect a society, show you time and time again that some members of that society are valued less than others?.

Society teaches us that some people do not matter. That it is OK to treat some people poorly and not see them as people, but less than people.

From a young age, it was made clear to me, that the colour of my skin makes me less than human. That sounds dramatic to some people but let me walk you through it.  I was born in foreign country and lived there for most of my childhood. The reason for that was that it was immoral and illegal for my parents to be in a relationship. The country both my parents come from deemed interracial couples to be unnatural, immoral, and therefore illegal. This meant if my parents wanted to be with each other and with their children, they would need to flee from their home and take refuge in a foreign land.

At my school, a teacher told me that I should feel privilege to be in that school, because it gave me an opportunity to be outside of the dangerous area “from where I came”, not knowing that I lived close to that school. It is the same school where a learner told me that the “great thing” about me is that while I look black, I at least have the brain of a white person.

As a teen driving with my brother and father, we got pulled over by the police and my dad was asked if he was being hijacked, while my brother was being searched by the police. To their mind, we were not a family driving together but rather two coloured men hijacking a white man.

These are some examples of racism that I have experienced. From these and many more experiences, I learned that society sees me and people who look like me as criminals, dangerous, violent, and intellectually inferior.

When people say black lives matter, what they are saying is that for centuries the lives of black people have been seen as less valuable than other lives. And now the lives of black people should be valued, respected, and protected as much as other lives have been.

Vuyisa Mamanzi

Vuyisa MamanziWhether listening to a radio talk show, watching a docuseries, reading a newspaper or an academic article, I often hear social justice activists and scholars influenced by the works of Paulo Freire reiterate the following words: “The structure is still exactly the same, only, it has become even more efficient in terms of oppression.”

However, what might have changed at a superficial level is who are the oppressed. The world all over is confronted and turned upside down by the Covid-19 pandemic. In the midst of this crisis we are once again witnessing high levels of police and army brutality, both in the United States and right here at home in South Africa.  Two cases that have dominated media headlines recently are the killings of two black men.  The death of Collins Khosa of Alexandra Township, South Africa, and the death of George Floyd of Minneapolis, Minnesota, United States. These cases are similar, yet different.

In South Africa Collins Khosa died after being assaulted at home by SANDF soldiers, who have since been cleared of the charges, despite a post mortem report stating that Khosa had died of blunt force trauma to the head (Venter, 2020). George Floyd has died as a result of a police officer placing his knee on Floyd’s neck, for nine minutes, resulting in his death (The Indian Press, 2020). These tragic incidents drive one to think deeply about of the concept of “locus of enunciation”, in how one tries to think, understand and make sense of these  killings of two black men, in different parts of the world. Locus of enunciation, is a concept coined by Walter Mignolo (2007) and broadly understood as “to think from where you are located” (Mignolo, 2002). Ngungi wa Tiongo speaks about it in terms of the base: “how we see a thing even with our eyes is very much dependent on where we stand in relation to it” (Ndlovu-Gatsheni, 2018).

As a black South African woman, how do I think of, make sense of, and even speak of, the death of Collins Khosa, in particular? Living in what is said to be a democratic South Africa, led by a black government. And, I wonder how those in the global north, think of, make sense of, and speak of, the death of George Floyd in a Trump-led country.

Being situated in South Africa, my history and the events leading up to the death of Khosa, forces me to think deeply and critically about our struggles in Africa. Kwesi Prah reminds us of an elite who has inherited and extended the lease of life of the colonial culture. An African elite who has integrated themselves and trying to get a position on the table of western culture. Since the dawn of democracy Kwesi Prah argues that we have succeeded in sending our kids to their schools, learn their languages, speak like them, like the things they like, eat exactly what they eat and drink what they drink.

He pushes it  further by stating that when we do all these things COLOUR does not save us, instead we become part of a culture. He posits that human beings are cultural animals and in South Africa we have succeeded in integrating ourselves into a particular culture (Prah, 2017). Therefore as we think, make sense of and try to understand the death of Collins Khosa, we must remember that our struggle in Africa is not just about race. Instead it is to lift the condition of our history, our culture, our, languages, our heritage and place it at the centre, and that is not blackism, it is Africanism.  It is not just racism that we are fighting, we are fighting for the upliftment of the African history, culture, society, AFRICANS! The fact that most Africans are black does not make all blacks African (Prah, 2017).

Looking at both the cases of Collins Khosa and George Floyd I am reminded of James Baldwin’s words when he said “don’t try to be safe, nobody is ever safe…people are not wicked because they do wicked things. The reason I want to suggest it to you is because I want you to know that there is nothing that has been done to you that you are not capable of doing to someone else.” (Baldwin, 2017).

What we are witnessing in the United States currently in relation to the ongoing protests ignited by the murder of George Floyd is what Kwesi Prah would characterise as an African-American struggle to remove the privileges that whites have over blacks. Prah asserts that US politics and systems have dictated the terms of the freedom struggles of African-American people – a struggle formed around challenging white dominance and privilege – versus the freedom struggles in Africa where questions of identity, language and culture have predominated (Prah, 2017).

bell hooks, in her book titled Black Looks: Race and Representation, says because African-American people have been socialized within white supremacist educational systems and by a racist mass media, “many black people are convinced that our lives are not complex, and are therefore unworthy of sophisticated critical analysis and reflection. Even those of us righteously committed to black liberation struggle, who feel we have decolonized our minds, often find it hard to ‘speak’ our experience. James Baldwin understood this. In The Fire Next Time he reminded readers that ‘there has been almost no language’ to describe the ‘horrors’ of black life. Without a way to name our pain, we are also without the words to articulate our pleasure” (Hooks, 1992).

In their similarities and differences the tragic and unfortunate deaths of Collins Khosa and George Floyd in the hands of state should invite us as “critical thinkers to break with the hegemonic modes of seeing, thinking, and being that block our capacity to see ourselves oppositionally, to imagine, describe, and invent ourselves in ways that are liberatory. Without this, how can we challenge and invite non-black allies and friends to dare to look at us differently, to dare to break their colonizing gaze?” (Hooks, 1992:2).

Being involved in social justice work and activism, and as I witness different forms of injustices unfold during these trying times, I concur with Thuli Madonsela’s sentiments in an open letter she recently wrote to our President, stating that “the constitution requires that no section of society should be unjustly and unfairly excluded from opportunities, resources, benefits and privileges. No group should bear a disproportionate burden.”

Rather, we should build a society which tolerates, respects and treats cultural differences equally. And, remember that South African society has the ingredients for a truly cosmopolitan culture with contributory derivations from all parts of the world.

Tumelo “Duke” Rasebopye – Do #BlackLivesMatter in South Africa?

duke rasebopyeI have been a victim of police violence before and have had a front row seat at how brutal the police can be towards an innocent citizenry. First, in 2015, when a friend and I were arrested while commenting on the police’s violent interventions towards a line of people looking to buy food from a sidewalk vendor; second, later in 2015, during the #FeesMustFall protests, when students from higher education institutions across the country gathered peacefully at the Union Buildings and were ambushed with rubber bullets and teargas after having being called back by authorities for an apparent address by the President; and then in 2016 when we participated in peaceful protests advocating for fair labour practices and the equality of students in the teaching and learnings activities of the University of Pretoria.

What is clear is that #BlackLivesMatter raises an issue that is not just limited to acts of police violence and brutality towards black persons in the USA alone, but gives us an opportunity to interrogate what seems to be an institutional culture that is a cancer to the police’s reputation internationally. Yes, we have been here before, and so have generations before us, but one gets the sense that this time around it has gained a heightened level of attention, gaining allies from unexpected groups and sectors, and hopefully this will be significant enough for it to advance real change.

As wonderful as the support has been from South Africans, one can’t help but notice the overwhelming silence of South Africans towards the excessive force being exercised in our own country. It’s saddening to have seen people being shamed for having not posted anything about BLM while also noting the struggle of local activists in trying to bring attention to, and seek justice for, victims here.

The Covid-19 lockdown period has exposed the blatant racial bias that exists in the South African Police Service and the South African National Defence Force. We have seen the level of humiliation used towards black communities in reinforcing the lockdown regulations, we have seen the lengths that law enforcement has gone to in order to locate and arrest offenders who trended on social media. And we have seen the violence used in enforcing these regulations, resulting in death as well. This is not the same energy exercised towards predominantly white communities who may document their violations on social media as well.

Unlike in the USA, the violent enforcement of the law in South Africa is mostly perpetrated by black police officers. This makes it clear that we are not only dealing with a historically racist institution, but that it is so structurally violent that it no longer matters what the race of the police officer is.

The institution remains mostly violent towards black people and black communities in particular and seems to reserve the serving and protecting for white people, privileged persons with power, and those communities and persons who present an association with or proximity to whiteness.

It truly is a joy to have activism reach such levels globally and that groups that have been marginalized historically and structurally today have found a collective voice to call for justice where offences exist, and social justice in its entirety wherever they may live, work or find leisure. The reality is that the hashtag will probably lose traction, the following will reduce significantly, and people will likely return to this issue when someone else dies and we find ourselves outraged by seeing the video on the internet.

There is still a lot of activism needed before we can claim success or any progress towards dismantling this system, but we need to start getting angry at our own institutions here in South Africa and start demanding accountability for the injustice, violence and racial profiling that continues to exist in our country. Especially considering that it is the majority in this instance that remains oppressed and still dies due to the service it receives from the police.


Baldwin, J. (2017). Baldwin Speech: Living and growing in a white world

Hooks, b. (1992). BLACK LOOKS: race and representation. South End Press. Boston, MA

Mandonsela, T .(2020). Dear Mr President – open letter from Thuli Madonsela is going viral!

Mabhena, C. (2019). On the Locus of Enunciation

Ndlovu-Gatsheni, S.J (2018). THE DYNAMICS OF EPISTEMOLOGICAL DECOLONISATION IN THE 21ST CENTURY: TOWARDS EPISTEMIC, FREEDOM. Strategic Review for Southern Africa, Vol 40, No 1. Change Management Unit (CMU) University of South Africa, Pretoria

Prah, K, P. (2017). Has Rhodes Fallen? Decolonizing the Humanities in Africa and Constructing Intellectual Sovereignty. The Academy of Science of South Africa (ASSAF) Inaugural Humanities Lecture. HSRC, Pretoria.

Prah, K, P. (2018). The challenge of language in post-apartheid South Africa.

The Indian express (2020). Explained: Why George Floyd’s death sparked violent protests across the United States

Venter, Z (2020). Soldiers cleared of Alexandra man’s murder

Walter, D. M (2002). The Geopolitics of Knowledge and the Colonial Difference


[1] See here for a report on this



Ubuntu and solidarity in times of Covid-19: Challenges and contradictions as communities grapple with ways of being and doing during a pandemic

by Vuyisa Mamanzi

Vuyisa: Hello, mother sukuvulela’mntu apho endlini, icorona iyabulala…(Hello, mother, do not allow any visitors in the house, corona kills).

Mother: Ewe, bahambile. uDade kapriest ebesithi undigqibele kudala, ngoku ke ebezondi bona, uvelela namanye amalungu.  (Yes, they have left. It was the priest’s wife, she came to see me because she had not seen me in a while. She is checking up on other congregants as well).

The above quotation is from a phone conversation between my mother and myself after hearing that there were visitors at home.

This is after we spoke at length the previous night about not allowing any visitors in the house and the need to adhere to social distancing rules. Meaning she needed to be strict and firm in turning people away, as difficult as that may be, a regrettably new normal. My mother is a people’s person, I knew and understood the difficulty she was now confronted with in having to turn anyone away. It went against her beliefs and sense of Ubuntu. As challenging and difficult as it was, it had to be done, especially after receiving news that two people known to the family had passed away from Covid-19. If the threat at any point felt distant, it was now real and personal, it was at our doorstep. One of the individuals who succumbed to Covid-19 lived in Gugulethu, she was a neighbour and a friend. I handed over the phone to my sister, I listened as she pleaded with our mother not to let anyone in the house, the risk of contraction was just too high, and we couldn’t afford to take any chances.

Not so long ago there were reports of at least seven people residing at New Rest Gugulethu, not far away from our home, who tested positive and were roaming the streets; refusing to self-isolate or self-quarantine. There was growing fear in the community and a community leader expressed that “Our concern as residents is that people are not taken into quarantine. People who have tested positive are living among us”. The provincial health department, the police, as well as community leaders were now going to work together, to force positive people to isolate in their houses. Safe and comfortable facilities were going to be provided for those unable to self-isolate in their homes[1].

Fear of contracting Covid-19 runs rampant throughout South Africa.  A study conducted by Ask Africa has reported high levels of social distress and low levels of optimism among South Africans. Interestingly, the same study reported that participants older than 65 were comfortable and were less likely to experience depression. That the highest levels of fear, depression and discouragement were among young people (Grobler, 2020). Maybe my sister and I were projecting our fears onto our mother. Subsequent phone conversations have revealed her continued sense of contentment, as she lives her life close to normalcy as possible. Perhaps age has brought her some calmness, wisdom and acceptance.

Be that as it may, because daily activities that put bread on the table, like going to work or the shops, now pose a threat of contracting the virus, many South Africans are fearful of the risk faced by family members. And many people miss social interaction and long for engagement with friends and family (Grobler, 2020).

A Google search on Covid-19 precautionary and prevention measures, will take you directly to the World Health Organisation’s public service announcement, which reads STAY HOME. SAVE LIVES. Help stop coronavirus. Keep a safe distance, wash hands, cover your cough and seek medical attention, if you have a fever, cough and difficulty breathing. Many will argue that South Africa, similar to countries like Norway in enforcing strict measures (including quarantines for international travellers and the closure of educational institutions), acted swiftly to contain Covid-19. However, only with time and reflection will it be possible to ascertain whether the strategy has been successful (Eriksen, 2020).

Many experts have noted that Covid-19 presents enormous and unique challenges. Among them Paul Farmer, a Medical Anthropologist and physician, who works to strengthen health-care systems in Haiti, Malawi, Rwanda and other low and middle-income countries: “we do not know, we have experience yes, but we do not know the specifics”.

What does this mean for a country like South Africa?

I agree with Fiona Ross (2020) that we face Covid-19 with skepticism, faith and a lot of history, I will shed light on these further on in the essay. But I am not entirely certain if we have learned from the horrible mistakes during the height of the HIV pandemic, as she suggests. If South Africa had learned anything, we should have focused on improving the quality of health care and learned that, when we fail to do this, we drive people away or make them mistrust the medical system (Farmer, 2020).

South Africa is confronted with rising numbers of health care workers who are dying of Covid-19 complications (Fokazi, 2020). There is growing fear and lack of trust in the medical system among some communities. The Western Cape provincial health department recently reported that there are some people who gave incorrect information when they went to test, in an attempt to avoid being tracked and taken into self-isolation or quarantine. I watched a video circulating on social media of a woman in Dutywa, a town in the Eastern Cape, telling health care workers who were conducting screening in the community that she was afraid of them. This was after news reports of a positive Covid-19 case at the same clinic where these nurses work. These health care workers can be seen and heard on the video saying that they have been tested but are waiting for their results. The woman now sees these health care workers as potential carriers of Covid-19 and a threat, exposing herself and her family to risk of infection. She politely refuses to be screened by them and tells the nurses that she will not take herself to hell (referring to the clinic in Dutywa).

What this highlights is just an aspect of complex and nuanced explanations for the lack of community trust in, or fear of, our health care system. We saw this when Ebola treatment units [ETUs] in Sierra Leone were seen as death-traps, bringers of Ebola, and people fled them (Farmer, 2020).

The current Covid-19 crisis reminds me of James Baldwin’s words when he said: “All of us are living through some kind of turmoil which endangers all of our relationships. This turmoil is historical and it is personal. The aims of a society are and always must be, to inculcate in its citizens a certain level of security” (Baldwin, 2017, 7:45-7:58).

I wonder to what extent the state has inculcated a level of security and trust in its citizens, as we face this turmoil called Covid-19.

The cohesiveness of societies in crises is often tested, based on trust or fear. In societies that are confronted with constant crises and have huge inequalities; generalised trust is generally low (Eriksen, 2020). However, in South Africa, the response to Covid-19 has seen people across all sectors coming together on a large scale to mitigate the harm through relief funds for businesses, the setting up of shelters and food parcel schemes, as well as an increase in existing social grant provisions (Ndebele & Sikuza, 2020).  In addition, new forms of quick response have emerged; social media has been used as a platform and enabled networks of people to come together and mobilise assistance and care, alongside older institutions of care such as family, religious organisations, charities, stokvels (rotating credit associations) and burial associations. All of these are critical in everyday survival strategies (Ross, 2020). There has been a call for the acknowledgement of social action of this nature and to encourage us to realise that as South Africans, despite our differences, in unity and solidarity we can achieve significant impact (Ndebele & Sikuza, 2020).

So I argue that in South Africa the Covid-19 pandemic has seen the revitalisation of the values-based philosophy of African humanism, Ubuntu. Broadly defined as an ‘African worldview’ that places communal interests above those of the individual, and where human existence is dependent upon interaction with others, Ubuntu has a long tradition on the continent  (McDonald, 2010: 139).

Similar actions have been seen In Norway, in reference to the dugnad, which refers to unpaid, collective, and cooperative work where every member of a community is expected to participate, regardless of their social position. To Norwegians, the dugnad, is a symbol of egalitarianism and the kind of solidarity mythically associated with rural communities. Politicians have repeatedly invoked the term dugnad to mobilise their constituencies, in order to get out of the crisis (Eriksen, 2020). Njabulo Ndebele and Judy Sikuza (2020) reminds us that Covid-19 does not respect the borders of countries, and the wealthy and influential are not immune. Regardless of race, religion, class, or nationality, people across the world are gravely ill.

However, the revitalisation of Ubuntu in South Africa has not been without challenges, argues David McDonald. He suggests that to convince South Africans that market reforms are democratic and egalitarian, the South African state and capital must revitalise Ubuntu theory and language to defuse opposition to underlying neoliberal change. This observation is made in a context where the very poor are disproportionately at risk of contracting Covid-19 due to crowded living conditions, insufficient public sanitation amenities, and a burden of existing disease (Ndebele & Sikuza, 2020).  This is in part, some of the skepticism, faith and history with which many South Africans face Covid-19 (Ross, 2020). There are strong sentiments that from housing to health care, there has been a downloading of the fiscal and physical responsibility of post-apartheid work on the backs of low-income households in the name of ‘community’. “Meaning that the language and practice of contemporary Ubuntu is too compromised by market ideology and discourse to be revived for a socialist agenda” (MacDonald, 2010: 146).

In a period of crisis and upheaval, trust is paramount. Whether it be on the state or among the people with whom you share a space (Eriksen, 2020).  In this essay, I have narrated ways in which trust has been lost among neighbours, where people have had to depend on the government to protect them against suspicious people with whom they share a social space. The inverse has also been demonstrated, where people have lost trust in the government to provide them with adequate health care systems and provisions during this crisis. In a documentary titled ‘Whispering truth to power’ Thuli Madonsela reminds us that with enormous power comes enormous responsibility. It is important to remember that the idea of shared responsibility and the degree to which we share this responsibility is related to how much influence and power we have.

In conclusion, in the same way that there is a tension between my sister and I and our mother – for her Ubuntu overrides safety considerations – there is tension between citizen and state – contestations around trust, cynicism about motive, yet a desire to join hands, even temporarily, to defeat a common threat. Do we see the state as the concerned priest’s wife, or the unwanted intruder at the door?

‘It is in your our hands’


ENCA (2020). Western Cape police to track COVID-19 cases.

Baldwin, J. (2017). Baldwin Speech: Living and growing in a white world.

Eriksen, T. H (2020). Norway’s response to Covid-19 and the Janus face of Nordic trust.

Fokazi, S (2020). Two more nurses die of Covid-19 in the Western Cape.

Grobler, R (2020). Lockdown: One in three adults in SA goes to bed hungry, according to latest research.

McDonald, D. A (2010). Ubuntu bashing: the marketisation of ‘African values’ in South Africa. Review of African Political Economy, 37:124, 139-152, DOI: 10.1080/03056244.2010.483902

Ndebele, N.S & Sikuza, J (2020). African foreign nationals are being ignored in the fight against Covid-19: where is our Ubuntu?

Ross, F.C (2020). Of soap and dignity in South Africa’s lockdown.

Silver, M (2020). ‘The Dread of Responsibility’ — Paul Farmer On The Pandemic And Poor Countries.