By Veli Mbele
Does Black life matter to us as Black people? I don’t pose this question in relation to or as a consequence of the trending ‘Black Lives Matter’ movement or hashtag. Neither do I pose it because I don’t have a sense of our attitude towards the value of our own existence as Black people.
I pose this question precisely because I don’t think the value of Black life or Black existence is something that we as Black people think about seriously, regularly and as a matter of priority.
There are many things that dominate our daily thoughts and conversations and consequently, our daily priorities, and I am not convinced all of them are connected to grappling or improving our daily reality as Black people.
Like me, you may have noticed how the mainstream media in South AfriKKKa (and globally), is able to determine not just what we as Black people think and talk about on a daily basis, but even what should inform the policy agenda of the state. This unconstrained power of the mainstream media is referred to as agenda-setting or narrative framing.
This is how powerful the mainstream media is. You may have also seen how the private lives of people referred to as Black celebrities and the shenanigans of the Black political aristocracy (especially those arising from the Zondo Commission), dominate news headlines.
However, it is important to realise that the phenomenon of the private lives of people referred to as Black celebrities or the shenanigans of the Black political aristocracy dominating news headlines-is a manufactured phenomenon.
This is not because the private lives of Black celebrities or the shenanigans of the Black political aristocracy are the most important developments in our lives.No! This happens because the people who control the mainstream media (white capital), still decide what must dominate our minds as Black people and consequently, our day-to-day conversations.
This then suggests that, in truth, what the media decision-makers project as ‘important’ or ‘of national importance’ is not necessarily as important or as urgent as projected. In fact, for them, the decision on which story or issue should make the front page or lead the prime time bulletin is mainly based on commercial considerations.
Commercial considerations or not, unfortunately, many of us (Black people), uncritically swallow whatever the mainstream media feeds us or what it projects as ‘important’ ‘of national interest’ or ‘of value to us as Black people’, and we end up treating it as such.
This past weekend an 8-year-old Black girl (Priscilla Willemse) in Griekwastad in the Northern Cape, drowned in raw sewage and died. The initial report suggests she was playing close to where an open sewage facility was being fixed by the municipal authorities.
I listened to the media interview with the family representative and the community leader, and I found myself trying to imagine the exact detail and sequence of events. After learning of young Priscilla’s tragedy and given the focus of my work, I decided to investigate if this incident was unprecedented.
I came across a similar incident of a 4-year-old Black boy, who in May this year, died in almost identical circumstances in Mahikeng in the North West. These two cases took my mind back to the many cases of Black children who continue to die in pit toilets in South AfriKKKa.
I think of Black children like 7-year-old Lister Mangongwa of Limpopo, who died in 2013. 6-year-old Michael Komape of Limpopo, who died in 2014. 5-year-old old Oratilwe Dilwane of the North West, who died in 2016. 6-year-old Siyamthanda Mtunu of the Eastern Cape, who also died in 2017.
5-year-old old Lumka Mketwa also of the Eastern Cape, who died in 2018. Then there is the recent case of the 5-year-old Black boy of Warrenton, in the Northern Cape, who died when an asbestos toilet structure collapsed within him inside.
A part of me suspects these are just a few of the known cases. There are possibly many unknown or even unreported cases of Black children dying in this manner. To bring attention to this issue (at least to those Black people who are oblivious to this), in 2018, I wrote an essay titled ‘Black Death As A Norm And The Nauseating Smell of Pit Toilets’.
Whether we realise it or not, we as Black people in South AfriKKKa (and the whole of Afrika) are facing an existential crisis of unimaginable proportions.Yes the genesis of our existential crisis is in the European imperialist project of past centuries, that led to the creation of the criminal-settler colony referred to as South AfriKKKa.
But the other truth is that our existential crisis persists because of our role (as Black people) as accomplices in the capitalist / white supremacist /anti-black project that is designed to ensure that Black existence remains nothing else but a monumental mountain of nothingness.
I can’t imagine anything more dehumanising than a Black child, who while playing or trying to relieve themselves, ends up dying prematurely, by drowning in human excrement. What could be more dehumanising than this?
In my view, this is our true state as Black people in South AfriKKKa and it is issues like these that should ordinarily dominate our day-to-day conversations, and not the juicy details of the lives of celebrities or the self-serving skirmishes of South AfriKKKa’s Black political aristocracy.
As Black people in South AfriKKKa, we urgently need a broad-based and unapologetically pro-Black political platform (definitely not a political party), that will unite us, help us understand what our true condition is as Black people in South AfriKKKa (not what the media and politicians tell us).
And from there, mobilise the necessary ideas and resources, to collectively tackle whatever we identify as our most urgent social challenges. It is up to us as Black people to make sure that Black life does indeed matter.
Let me be clear! It is not the duty or burden of the other race groups to make Black lives matter. It is our sole and primary duty and I wish to urge my generation to embrace this as part of their historical mission.
Camagu! Lesedi! Kganya! Makukhanye!
Veli Mbele is an Afrocentric essayist, political historian, cofounder of Mutapa and secretary of the Black Power Front.