Over the past few months there has been a noticeable focus on the rise of movements such as Black Lives Matter. The impact of this movement has been felt more in America, more so after the horrific death of George Floyd. His death was not necessary but was inspired by hate; which got me thinking about this hatred of the black skin. Do black lives really matter?
I would like to believe that black lives matter, regardless of where one is from or may be. As black people we seek to be recognised as humans by all but I believe we have to start treating each other as such, in order to enforce others to recognise us as such. Charity begins at home, the wise say, and in this instance home is black on black recognition, love and value of black human life.
I write this short piece to show the life of a black immigrant in South Africa in the African context of black lives matter. Many black Africans came to South Africa looking for better lives and opportunities and to live under better laws as promised by the South African constitution. They seek this better life because it is lacking where they come from. We all seek to give our families the best lives possible, far from fear, danger and most of all prejudice. The story of humans moving from one place to another in search of greener pastures is as old as time itself. I found myself looking at these questions in relation to black foreigners in the land of dreams, South Africa: Do black lives matter in South Africa; or rather do foreign black lives matter?
You see, I had a very distasteful experience back in 2018 when I took my then 4 year old nephew to a hospital in South Africa. He was collapsing every 5 minutes and we didn’t know what to do. Frantic with worry his mum and I rushed him to the hospital, upon arrival; they took the child in and told us to go open a file at the administration desk. The mother’s dark complexion was enough for the administrator to demand a passport and permit for both her and her child. When it was noted that she did not have one on her person, we were advised to kindly take him to a hospital in Zimbabwe as they don’t have time to deal with amakwerekwere ( a derogative term for foreigners). With a sneer and attitude, we were told that their resources are for their people only and whatever happens to the child is not their problem. The doctors then notified us that without a file they cannot touch him and they proceeded with other patients, we pleaded and begged to no avail and ended up taking the child home. This is story is one amongst thousands of similar stories of black foreigners in the Republic of South Africa.
Granted the mother needed papers to be in South Africa but what do we say of the child? The child’s health should have been given first priority; should he die simply because his folks are undocumented? Are doctors and nurses not supposed to solely focus on healing as per their oath and leave immigration issues to immigration officials? According to South African law, undocumented children are entitled to have access to health care and education without discrimination. In order to fight the injustice faced by my nephew, we would have to go to court, which in itself is a costly process that we could not afford. This left me with a bad taste in my mouth as I realised that my nephew could die and they wouldn’t be bothered simply because he was foreign, black, and undocumented. It is important to emphasize on his blackness because when a white child was brought in, he was quickly attended to and the mother was told that she could attend to administration issues after he had been treated. We had to do it before treatment whilst she was privileged enough to it after her child had been attended to. The people doing all this, the doctor and nurses as well as the administration officers were all black people. I would have thought that human life would have been prioritised in our case as it had been with the white child and his mother, however there was clearly a difference between us and the manner in which we were treated.
An injustice is an injustice and must be treated as such and not swept under the carpet because its termed afro phobia. Afro phobia is black on black hatred and is exclusive to black people where as xenophobia is inclusive of all races. Black foreigners are treated worse than second class citizens in South Africa as seen through the unforgettable burning of Ernesto Nhamuave in the 2008 xenophobic attacks. Subsequent xenophobic attacks named afro phobia throughout the years have not proven to be any less violent. Some blame it on the colonial era, which saw black people being dehumanised and thus set a precedence that all awful atrocities can be done on the black body without fear of punishment. Colonial conditioning may still affect us to this day, which is why we have no problem doing the same to our own. If we do not look out for each other or look at each other as humans and respect the black human life how do we expect others to?
The recourse which many may suggest, is to approach the courts, but sadly, access to the courts is restricted due to lack of funds and as a result many stories like mine just get swept away with time. Black foreign nationals are human too, we have families, we bleed when we’re stoned and hurt when we are attacked. We ask to be looked as humans too and afforded the protection and dignity afforded to humans. Such hate should be stopped from senior level and the rest shall yield. South Africa is a signatory to international treaties that ask it to observe human rights as well as immigrant’s rights. We ask that it observes them more in practice not just in writing.
In conclusion, we take a knee for black lives matter and a moment of silence for all those who have passed on because of this hate against black people whilst asking for dignity and recognition as humans from everyone else. It is time we as black people also start looking at and treating each other as humans and with dignity and uphold human life in the context of the black person.