Black Livelihoods Matter Too

Wetlands at Blue Crane Restaurant, Nieuw Muckleneuk

George Floyd’s murder
In broad daylight
Captured on video
Has changed my perspective

I have revisited my own racism
Reconnected with the racism of my ancestors
As I watched Rhodes falling
In the popular British imagination

Along with other British imperialists
As some statues were taken down;

A world aware of the evil of apartheid
Watched in wonder as we transformed
From the most obviously racially divided nation
Into an inclusive rainbow one

So interesting that the waves of outrage
At the death of George Floyd
Choked to death under the knee of a white policeman
Has had such little impact on South Africans

No protests here
Just a call by the ANC government
To wear black for three consecutive Fridays
In honour of #blacklivesmatter

I have ignored the call
Considered it a form of hypocrisy
That I will not support

For Black lives do matter:
Violence against one’s own black citizens does matter
Violence against black foreigners in this country also matters;
It is not a foreign challenge

That xenophobic attacks are often perpetrated
By a marginalized black South African majority
Fed up with a system of rights that discriminates against them
Does not make it right

That the largely black leadership
Uses our police officers
And our army to quell internal dissent

To forcibly control
Ordinary black citizens
Into lockdown compliance
Despite their inability to do so safely

Makes their call to express solidarity
With African Americans
A show of outrageous insensitivity

For although I am not convinced
That the ANC government wishes to fan the flames
Of black on black violence
As the apartheid regime used to call it

With glee
With self-righteousness
Even as it perpetuated it

Our current South African context is different

The violence of our black police against black people
Of all nationalities within our borders
Seems to be linked to two elements:

Extreme
And growing poverty
Amongst our people

And a paucity of environmentally sound urban planning
That means that infrastructure backlogs
Keep growing:

A shortage of housing units
A decline in the value of wages
Which confine the urban majority to slums

Pushes suburbia into slumification;

Extreme jealousy
Against black foreign nationals
Getting ahead in business
And in the professions

Living in suburbia
Some of them;
‘Stealing’
What rightly belongs to black South Africans

Through legitimate means
And through illegal ones;
The difference between the legal
And the illegal ignored

As criminals of all nationalities
Including South Africans
Pay bribes
To grow organized crime

The drug lords
Poisoning South Africa’s youth
Laying waste to young black South African lives

For as much as some black South Africans
Don’t like black Zimbabweans
Don’t like black Mozambicans
Don’t like black Nigerians…

So too some black foreigners don’t like local black people

Look down upon them
Take advantage of their lack of skills
Ply them with everything that feeds bad habits
Treat them with contempt

Making #blacklivesmatter
Hollow
From within

Afrophobia
The very opposite
Of what Steve Biko envisaged;

It is not only white people
And our whiteness
That pose a challenge to black lives

It’s whiteness embraced by black people
Adding to whiteness across the global system

A love of money
A love of brands
A love of excess
A love of things rather than people

All this during the coronavirus experience…

On a personal level
I connected with my own whiteness
My love of comfort
My love of rightness

Fell into a blame game
Fell into a hole of political correctness
Fell into heartlessness

Fell into I don’t care-ness

For I am tired of gender-based violence
I am tired of human traffickers
I am tired of sex traffickers

And I am tired of thieves
In my own backyard

And George Floyd’s death stayed with me.
Not his death so much.
Nor his criminal record.

Nor the suppression of the story
Sitting in the woman who is the mother of his daughter.
The story she kept to herself perhaps,
as she said, “He was a good man.”

And repeated, as though to convince herself.

I switched the video off at that point.
Couldn’t watch her self-contortion.
For, perhaps to her,
He wasn’t a good man.

Perhaps he was a violent partner.
I might be wrong.
I hope I am…

Yet, the power of his soul haunted me.
Humbled me.

For some people are saying that the demonstrations, the protest marches, the global rise in consciousness has nothing to do with him. It is the historical slavery of black people and the horrendous impact it has had on black men especially. Systematically targeted for incarceration. From birth destined to be scapegoats for everything that is wrong in this white, white world. Others say that the worldwide refusal to allow institutionalized racism to continue has to do with the younger generations’ abhorrence of racial injustice. And that his death was the last straw.

And others still that #blacklivesmatter is a fraud funded by George Soros…

As though George Floyd was nothing.
A nobody.

As though perhaps he deserved to die.
Just not in that way.
The protestors were stating very clearly
That nobody deserves to die in that way.

Not even murderers.
Or rapists.
Or paedophiles.
Or sex traffickers.
Or pimps…

Or armed robbers.
Or cocaine addicts.
Or meth addicts…

I am not convinced though
That this was not about George Floyd as well;
Perhaps he had/has a great soul.

Perhaps it was the power of his soul
that brought about this leap in our consciousness.

Perhaps it was his soul
That connected with every other soul
Tasked to bring an end to racism.

This I sit with still,
With a sense of terror,
With a sense of awe,
With a sense of humility.

Surely, compassion is at work through him.
For what I ‘know’ by way of my rational mind
Seems useless.
Or, at the very least, deficient.

So, I have withdrawn from all Orange Grove community structures.

To examine my beliefs again.
And my attitudes.
And my political affiliations.

And my heartlessness.
And my cruelty.
And my brashness.
And my aloofness.
And my narcissism.

And what I want to do differently;
What I truly want to do is to plant forests.
Or to cause forests to be planted.

Yet trees are sentient beings.
Not too many people know that trees weep
If they are badly treated.

Their immunity,
Like ours,
Is compromised through negligence.

Through cruelty.

So, how can I plant trees,
Unless I can secure a safe home for them?
Safe spaces where they will be valued and respected?

Without trees
Joburg will be airless
‘I can’t breathe…’
Our collective reality.

Yet no police officer can possibly be blamed for that…

Is this not what coronavirus is teaching us too?
Is the inability to breathe
Not the main modality that is being attacked?

Or to be more specific,
Is the lack of oxygen in lungs, in brain, in heart,
Not the main challenge that this virus presents us with?

Is the earth not running out of oxygen?

Is it not a sign?
Or is reading the signs of the times
A thing only sangomas can do?

If so,
I pray for the young ones
To come out of hiding
Out of cultural lockdown

Pay attention to the earth
And the ancestor’s call within you…

For the earth has rights too.

The earth and her creatures are weeping.
I can’t breathe
Their plea too

The responsibilities are all ours.

And there is potentially a good future
for a thriving local permaculture-based economy
To grow out of the carcass of the old mining one.

There is the potential for a green economy
That serves us who live here –
Not just a future Mars economy.

Or speculators in far-away edens…

For black livelihoods matter too
And the indigenous knowledge and skills
To flatten the poverty curve
Lies within each of us

Bringing an end to the racism
Bringing an end to the global pyramid schemes
That would of our bodies a mining site make

Bringing an end to the virus
Bringing an end to violence against the earth
Bringing an end to the violence against the feminine

Within
And without…

(©Archaela 5780 Sivan 23; 16 June 2020)

Perhaps what I have written seems full of contradictions. To facilitate greater understanding of what I am grappling with, as a possible vision for Ward 73 in Johannesburg, I share with you three videos.

The first contrasts two approaches to homelessness, especially when this is accompanied by drug addiction. While Orange Grove, the area I live in, is nowhere as bad as that depicted, the solution it offers might have some merit, for it holds the rights of all in creative tension.

This second video offers a religious Jewish perspective on life and resilience in the face of great odds. It might be useful to us in understanding the impact of challenging histories on the human psyche. And how to grow resilience in oneself, and one’s community, despite these.

The third was posted by ‘my rabbi’, Sa’ar Shaked, on his FB page. It looks at intentional communities, in urban areas rather than just rural ones. Is this something that resonates with you as a possibility for our community? We could start small… We have made some progress already…We have an active and committed CPF as well as NOAH CAN. These two structures I see as two wings to assist us in flattening the crime curve and the poverty curve in our ward. If we succeed, then perhaps ‘black’ and ‘white’, ‘local’ and ‘foreigner’, will give way to ‘neighbour’. And trees can be safely planted?

Communities of Hope: Discovering the eco-villages of Europe: https://www.filmsforaction.org/watch/communities-of-hope-discovering-the-ecovillages-of-europe/