Africa’s Reaction to the Killing of George Floyd

George Floyd died in police custody.

The reaction of some African governments to the recent murder of George Floyd has been revealing. The African Union stated that it resented the behaviour of elements within the US justice system that continued to foment discrimination against blacks.

Moussa Faki Mahamat, the Chadian Chairperson of the African Union Commission, said in a statement that the commission “reaffirms and reiterates the African Union’s rejection of the continuing discriminatory practices against Black citizens of the United States of America.”

The South African president, Cyril Ramaphosa, also weighed in, saying there was need for a global effort to end discrimination. “As countries that have borne the brunt of racial discrimination over centuries, we need to work together to end the scourge of racial violence, wherever it occurs. By working together, we can build a peaceful, just, healthy, and prosperous global community,” Ramaphosa said.

George Floyd’s death sparked protests across Africa. Civic society and opposition parties protested against systematic police violence towards African-Americans in the US. “Enough with police brutality on our black bodies,” Julius Malema, the leader of South Africa’s radical left party, the Economic Freedom Fighters (EFF) told protesters outside the US Embassy in Pretoria on June 8.

The protests in several African countries over Floyd’s death have revived the issue of anti-black racism, racial discrimination and also the colonial legacy of the British imperialist Cecil John Rhodes.

On May 31, days after Floyd’s murder, the Rhodes Stable located at the Matobo National Park in southern Zimbabwe, was burnt down by persons unknown. The stables, built in 1897, are one of the oldest buildings in the country and it is where Rhodes used to shelter his horses. His remains lie atop a granite hill in Matopo. In 2012, the late President Robert Mugabe blocked ex-combatants and members of his ruling Zanu PF party from exhuming Rhodes’s remains, saying his legacy is part of the country’s history.

Monuments of colonial rule have been removed in many African countries, but following Floyd’s murder, there is a renewed debate over these symbols of white domination. Should they be removed, or preserved as a constant reminder of the ills of the slave past?

“However, waiting for long happening incidents of black men being murdered by police in US speaks to failure to face and confront the often painful past and the ever existing racism against the black man the world over,” argued Iphuthile Maphosa, a Zimbabwe specialist.

In South Africa, statues and monuments of colonial-era leaders have been the target of the Black Lives Matter (BLM) protests, but again, opinion is divided on what should happen to them.

On the one hand, there is a belief that colonialism and apartheid is part of the history of South Africa and that these memorial representations are appropriate and should be preserved. On the other, there is a feeling that given the impact of colonialism and apartheid on people’s material lives and their outlook, preserving the statues only serves to glorify these systems.

In 2015, South Africa’s University of Cape Town (UCT) removed its Rhodes statue, originally unveiled in 1934.

All anti-black racism can be traced back to slavery and to Africa, and “as the home of black people, the continent cannot be indifferent to a struggle such as BLM,” Khanyile Mlotshwa, a South African academic at the University of KwaZulu-Natal told me. “When black people in Europe say BLM and take down statues, in Africa we should show leadership by taking down all statues of imperialists and colonialists and rename all streets and buildings named after them.”

“The racial global order is linked… It is time racism and all forms of discrimination is ended the world over.”

The BLM protests in Africa have also tended to expose the hypocrisy of some governments such as that of Zimbabwe where racial, tribal, identity politics, ethnic profiling, police violence against citizens, segregation and even subjugation by the ruling elites exists. As Effie Ncube, the human rights activist pointed out, “Zimbabwe and many African governments have a worse record of atrocities and human rights violations than the US.”

Recently, in South Africa, Nigeria, Zimbabwe and Kenya, security officers have faced charges of fatally shooting people while attempting to enforce Covid-19 restrictions.

“While the US attempts to address the racism, we cover up the injustices of tribalism. Tribalism in Africa has killed more people than racism in America,” Ncube said.

Burundi’s 1993-2005 long civil war pitting Hutu and the Tutsi ethnic groups left as much as 300,000 died. In Rwanda, 800,000 Tutsis and moderate Hutus were slaughtered by Hutu extremists in 1994 genocide. In Zimbabwe in the early 80s, an estimated 20,000 people belonging to the Ndebele tribe were killed by Mugabe’s North Korean-trained military brigade, as the long serving ruler sought to impose a one-party state rule.

“Equal justice under the law should not just be a slogan but a lived reality of all human beings,” Ncube added. “Black, white and brown, men and women.”