Petrus “Pietman” Miggels. (Supplied)
The more I’ve tried to run away from writing this, the more the world pushes me towards it. First it nudged, then it pushed and, finally, it shoved.
First, it was the sudden deaths of Enock Mpianzi and Keamohetswe Shaun Seboko just hours apart in January. Two young boys who died because no one in a position of power around them at school saw them, no one realised they weren’t there … until it was too late at least.
Why did they have to die for anyone to see them, to see their worth?
In the days after both boys’ deaths, questions around how they were missed explored just why it was that it took hours before an adult sounded the alarm? Somewhat naturally, in our fragile racial context, the hypothetical “What if they were white?” question was pondered by many black people, who know what it feels like to be unseen in “white spaces”.
It’s an uncomfortable question for many, but one which speaks to an element of the experience many young black adults who went to former Model C or private schools have opened up about in recent years – from having to live with your name being butchered, being forced to change your natural hair and not being accepted as you are, to having your experiences of racism or other forms of discrimination simply fobbed off.
Mpianzi and Seboko weren’t the first, and, achingly, they are unlikely to be the last black children rendered invisible by their teachers, coaches, fellow pupils and, more broadly, those in power.
And how can we expect things to change in our schools, when the society they’re rooted in doesn’t recognise black people for who we are – people deserving of being treated as equals.
Petrus Miggels, Collins Khosa, Sibusiso Amos, Andries Tatane, the black officers who were the targets of Vicki Momberg’s vitriolic tirade – all acts which happened in a society in which black people are seen as less human, less worthy of recognition.
Miggels died after being assaulted by police on the first day of the national lockdown, 27 March. Miggels’ cause of death has officially been determined as “heart failure”, but questions still remain.
Just two days later, Amos was killed at his Vosloorus home. While the Ekurhuleni metro police officer initially linked to this killing has not been charged by IPID, the circumstances of Amos’ death once again led to questions being raised about the use of excessive force by the country’s law enforcement agencies and security forces.
Less than two weeks later, Alexandra resident Khosa, drinking alcohol in his own yard, was slapped and smacked by SANDF soldiers, who felt he disrespected them by failing to follow their directives (despite the defence force indirectly admitting the soldiers went beyond the scope of the lockdown regulations).
Khosa’s family had to fight for him to be seen, drawing on support from some of the country’s foremost legal minds to have the system, the government and the public know that he mattered. And yet, despite a high court ruling admonishing the police and the SANDF for their conduct, Khosa’s life has still not been recognised for all that it was by the authorities.
The SANDF and Minister of Defence Nosiviwe Mapisa-Nqakula have seemed more concerned about procedure and protecting their own, as is evident in the handling of the questionable inquiry into Khosa’s death. The total lack of regard for Khosa the man, a black man, was no more evident than when Mapisa-Nqakula, when asked about the report during a press briefing, was more concerned about how the report got into the media’s hands rather than first showing any sort of empathy for a man who lost his life, for a family who had lost a loved one. (For the record, minister, the report was part of a publicly available court record, no leaks here).
The Black Lives Matter movement is about being seen, accepted for who we are, being given a fair shot and so much more. People of colour, black people, who matter. It’s that simple.
What’s not simple or easy is having to struggle every day, fighting to prove to the world that you matter, that you are not a set of grotesque tropes – that you are good enough, just as you are.
If the Black Lives Matter movement makes you uncomfortable, you’ve probably got it good. Be thankful you don’t know the pain of dying to be seen.
– Sheldon Morais is assistant editor and head of breaking news.