Weekly Column: Black on Black violence

By Samuel Chamboko – I’m almost certain that this has been harped on since Rosa Parks stood her ground on that fateful morning in Montgomery, Alabama, since the Rev. Martin Luther King (Jnr) made the now famous ‘I have a dream….’ Speech, since Kwame Nkrumah, Patrice Lumumba, Julius Nyerere, Kenneth Kaunda, Joshua Nkomo, Robert Mugabe, Oliver Tambo , Leopold Senghor and other founding luminaries in African nationalism decided to take up the fight for emancipation of African/black people (hence forth African and black will be used interchangeably). The one message that was preached was that Africans should unite. Even the late great Robert Nesta Marley did a song called Africa Unite ‘coz we are moving out Babylon and going into our father’s land. Moving from bondage to self determination. It is the one thing we still are searching in vain for, African Unity, black people in solidarity. Our failure to achieve unity as a people brings me to an issue which I think is a result of our failure to achieve unity, that is, black on black violence.

I hope to explore a holistic definition of the word violence which in this case, which will include non-physical violence, tacit and explicit violence. Instability and insecurity on the continent is well documented, but one should not only view this as a phenomenon limited to the motherland, but it can be traced to countries and areas where people of African descent predominantly inhabit, countries like Haiti and the Dominican Republic come to mind, the African Diaspora if you like, Clichy-sous-Bois in France, The Bronx in New York City, Slough in the UK and many other areas dominated by Africans in the Diaspora. The one common fact with all these areas is the high crime levels. Due to the low socio-economic status of inhabitants of these areas, they turn to crime as a way of survival and in most cases is violent crime. The victims and the perpetrators are, in most cases, people who stay in the same area. While I am not advocating for criminals to take crime to more affluent areas, I just find it difficult understand how divided we have become as a people.

Non-physical violence between blacks is probably at its worst especially in workplaces. Picture this, a black brother or sister has finally made into middle management, on merit. The department he/she will be in-charge of has about 25 staffers of all different hues. 99.9% of the time you will find that non-black staffers reporting to the new manager will be able to get away with murder. They can call in to say they are not coming in because the dog or cat is sick and will also be taking the rest of the week off. They can come in late and be totally excused because they had car problems. Just let a black brother or sister call in sick, and it’s seen as a total lack of self control and discipline as a result of having too much to drink. Even attending a funeral is seen as either attending an interview for another job, or just sheer laziness. Black staffers under a black manager, in most cases, draw the short straw. It’s twice as hard for them as it is for their white counterparts under the same manager. While I’m not advocating for preferential treatment, all I’m saying is we should have some sort of solidarity, just like Jews. A Jewish GP will refer you to a Jewish Specialist or recommend you buy your medicines at Pharmacy run by another Jew. There is a sense of unity and community to be admired in all this. I love the way Jews do their thing. While most black people don’t know when Black History Month is, Jews will at any given opportunity will take time out to remember the 6m of the peoples who perished in the holocaust. Why don’t we have a day to pay our respects to all those slaves who died on the ships enroute to the US plantations? It’s even ironic that in some African countries 25May, the day the OAU, predecessor of the African Union, was formed, is not officially recognized, but D-Day celebrations are held annually. What is wrong with us?

Do you think that President Obama would have called Kanye West an ass, if the Taylor Swift had been black? I’m sure he would have not even bothered to comment. We are always the first to publicly chastise each other. Another case in point is ANC Youth League President Julius Malema. I’ll be the first to admit that when this guy came into office, to say the least, he was not ready for challenges that came with the office he had been elected. It was foot in mouth daily. A few years down the line, a lot has changed for him. He is not only an eloquent speaker but has given some of the best interviews on the South African political scene, two of the most memorable one having been aired on SABC 2’s flagship programme  Morning Live and on Redi Thlabi’s show on Talk Radio 702. His initial lack of experience and finesse when he came to office has been the butt of all jokes, especially in South Africa’s white controlled independent media. What is more disappointing is that black journalists in these media houses are the forefront of vilifying Malema based on the initial impressions he gave and not based on current ‘form’. Even when he talks about very pertinent issues like nationalization of mines and land re-distribution in South Africa, he is still painted as the mad man talking nonsense, who no self respecting person should listen to.  The crux of the issues are ignored and focus given to his personal life, i.e. the expensive Breitling watch he rocks and his pad in one of Johannesburg’s affluent neighbourhoods. Like I said, given South Africa’s history, what is really disappointing is that black journalists are at the forefront of making fun of this brother and for no apparent reason. Ask any 5 reasons why they think Malema is an idiot, they probably have to refer you to their handlers.

I stand corrected, but we are probably the world’s most ‘un-united’ people. People who influence and support is usually bought by a few silver coins. We can change this but only if we try.