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Black Lives Matter nominated for Nobel Peace Prize, but does the award matter?

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Lwando Xaso is an attorney, writer and speaker . She is the founder of Including Society. She is also the author of the book, ‘Made in South Africa, A Black Woman’s Stories of Rage, Resistance and Progress’. Follow her at @includingsociety.

The nomination of Black Lives Matter can be seen as pandering by a Norwegian institution with no real connection to the grassroots, in an attempt to stay relevant. Only time will tell, should BLM win, whether the prize will have any effect on the ground. Or whether it will be one day thrown in BLM’s face when the movement does not accord with what people expect from Peace Prize winners.

First published in the Daily Maverick 168 weekly newspaper.

On 16 October 1993, news broke that Nelson Mandela and FW de Klerk would be the joint recipients of that year’s Nobel Peace Prize. The choice of Mandela, the freedom fighter of that century, as a recipient made sense, but the choice of FW de Klerk was mind-boggling.

It was reported at that time that, when Mandela was asked what he thought De Klerk had done to deserve the prize, he snapped: “Just ask the Nobel Peace Prize Committee… When the elections take place we will stop worrying what Mr De Klerk does or does not do, because the democratic forces will be in power.”

The Nobel Committee said De Klerk and Mandela had displayed “personal integrity and great political courage” in finding a middle ground in the bitterly polarised politics of South Africa. It was also reported that “the two men accepted the joint award with the strained grace that has become characteristic of their complex relationship as leaders of mistrustful camps who now depend on each other to complete their work”.

A political move

There is no denying that this joint Nobel Peace Prize award was a political move and yet another cog in the rainbow nation machine determined to churn out a story of peace even at the cost of elevating De Klerk to the same plane as Mandela. The optics meant more than the truth. I can see why Mandela, the politician, would stand next to De Klerk. It was to put country above all else by ensuring De Klerk remained committed to the process lest he be called a hypocrite for accepting a peace award while propagating violence and division.

These are some of the hard things we have to do in the hopes that the dream of a united country will one day be reality. As we have seen of De Klerk years after he accepted the award, the dream hasn’t quite been realised.

Sixteen years later, in October 2009, Barack Obama, the US’s first black president and commander-in-chief, was announced as that year’s recipient of the Nobel Peace Prize. This honour seemed so much like an entrapment that even Obama expressed his discomfort. It was likely that this award would make a hypocrite of a black president whose country was known for military incursions in other countries and which at the time of the award was engaged in two wars. And indeed, despite the endorsement of Obama as a man of peace, he found himself in the untenable predicament of commanding a drone policy that killed people.

Black Lives Matter nomination

It is now 12 years later and the Black Lives Matter (BLM) movement is a nominee for this year’s Nobel Peace Prize. My first reaction was a broad smile. The nomination is legitimising, and a repudiation of the propaganda that BLM is a terrorist group. It asserts the truth that there can be no peace in the presence of racial inequality. It places BLM undoubtedly on the right side of history.

However, a movement such as the BLM does not need legitimisation when it has people around the world on its side. The legitimisation is for the nonbelievers who may be persuaded by a European institution. As we have seen before, the Nobel Peace Prize can put its recipients in a very paradoxical situation. It can constrict its recipients to a particular route and role.

The nomination of BLM can also be seen as pandering by a Norwegian institution, with no real connection to the grassroots, in an attempt to stay relevant. Only time will tell, should BLM win, whether the prize will have any effect on the ground. Or whether it will be one day thrown in BLM’s face when the movement does not accord with what people expect from Peace Prize winners.

One thing is clear, regardless of whether they win – I only hope the rallying cry of BLM will ring even louder: “No Justice, No Peace.” DM168

This story first appeared in our weekly Daily Maverick 168 newspaper which is available for free to Pick n Pay Smart Shoppers at these Pick n Pay stores.

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