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Brutality against and criminalisation of black bodies m...

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Brutality against black bodies must stop – our children’s health and future depend on it


Zukiswa Pikoli is a journalist at Maverick Citizen.

We have to break the cycle that criminalises black bodies if our society is to fulfil the principles of non-racialism, equality and social justice for all.

Last week, pupils at Effingham Secondary School in Durban held a protest – intended to be peaceful – against alleged racism in the school. A fight seems to have broken out between two Grade 12 girls that escalated, resulting in the school calling in security and the police. Social media was awash with videos showing an ADT security guard, assisted by a metro policeman, dragging a girl pupil as she tried to break free. A boy was seen trying to help her, but a security officer pointed a rifle at him.

What interests me about this incident is how these children were treated by the security personnel. It is hard for me not to have a strong reaction to how the security manhandled and pointed a rifle at a schoolchild. It is hard for me to imagine that the same response would have happened had these pupils been white. In fact, #FeesMustFall has shown us that white bodies are treated with particular care.

This is why, during #FeesMustFall, white students, knowing the privilege they had, were often put at the front of the protests as a protective band of sorts. The students, both black and white, knew that without this they were likely to incur brutality from the police. The phenomenon made local and international headlines as we grappled with the latent assertion that white lives were of a higher value than black lives. Black students reported being shot with rubber bullets and assaulted by police during protests but no white students were.

In a 2015 article, “#FeesMustFall and the status of ‘post-apartheid South Africa’”, Professor Emeritus Raymond Suttner wrote: “The protests demonstrated an awareness of the privilege associated with whiteness. In some cases they put their bodies on the line, proving their willingness to sacrifice by standing as human shields between the police and black students.

“The assumption of the white human shields and their black comrades was that whites were far less likely to be clubbed or shot at, and from the evidence that emerged this assumption was confirmed.”

All around us is evidence of brutality against black bodies and their criminalisation, for example Marikana, #FeesMustFall, Collins Khoza, who was killed in his yard by soldiers during lockdown in 2020, the targeting of shack dwellers’ movement Abahlali baseMjondolo, now even high school children, who are treated with undue force and careless disregard for their young bodies and the resultant psychological impact.

The moment the security officer pointed a gun at that pupil he demonstrated that his life had no value. I shudder to think what would have happened had there not been so many witnesses and cameras around.

This speaks not only to an issue of adequate training, but also the violation of human rights with no sanction.

Although the department of education in KwaZulu-Natal says it is conducting an investigation into the circumstances surrounding the incident, the focus seems to be more on disciplinary issues within the school.

Although this may or may not be a valid focal point, the bigger issue here is that discipline must still be within the confines of the law as it relates to schools. The teachers who called the police and security personnel had a duty to ensure undue force was not used on pupils, which they failed to do and therefore did not exercise the necessary care and protection of the pupils’ rights.

The effects of violence, particularly on children, cannot be overstated. Students who were part of the #FeesMustFall activism reported struggling with post-traumatic stress disorder and mental health issues as a result of the violence and trauma they experienced. In an interview in 2017, Shaeera Kalla, a leader of the movement who was shot in the back 13 times with rubber bullets, said she was unable to go back to campus to complete her master’s degree because it was “triggering” for her.

Studies have shown that children exposed to violence end up becoming hardened and exhibit problematic and violent behaviour towards others, which may stunt their development and capacity to be well-adjusted adults. Therefore, actions such as those exhibited by security and police officers towards Effingham Secondary School pupils need to be condemned in the strongest possible sense.

The World Health Organization says “children exposed to violence and other adversities are more likely to drop out of school, have difficulty finding and keeping a job, and are at heightened risk for later victimisation and/or perpetration of interpersonal… violence, by which violence against children can affect the next generation”.

We have to break the cycle that criminalises black bodies if our society is to fulfil the principles of non-racialism, equality and social justice for all.

It is our duty to speak up for those pupils because there is no life that is not mournable. DM168

Zukiswa Pikoli is a journalist at Maverick Citizen.

This story first appeared in our weekly Daily Maverick 168 newspaper, which is available countrywide for R25.



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All Comments 2

  • What a racist article.
    I am sure I would be more shocked if the article just spoke above the disgrace of a learner having a gun pointed at them or guards dragging them down the street. Black and female is just trying to sensationalise the event however the racism and genderism just detracts from the real facts.
    One day journalists will learn, maybe.
    I am open to criticism as I could not completer reading the article, therefore my comments are probably lacking info.

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