Opinion: A young Zimbabwean asks, ‘Who will step up?’

The present level of violence is a way to express the hurt of the masses, but it is not the best way to move forward.

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Anesu Jahura, a Zimbabwean-born youth now living in Cape Town, South Africa, shown with the Simonsberg Mountain in the background during a family outing in Stellenbosch, South Africa, before the pandemic. “Yes, violent rioting will cause disruption and force people to pay attention, but that is not the way toward a peaceful solution,” he said. (Courtesy Caroline Jahura/iGeneration Youth/TNS)

The United States is in chaos as peaceful protests turn into looting and rioting across the country. What started as a reaction to the murder of George Floyd, a black man murdered by a white police officer, is marked by marches during the daytime and large-scale violence and anarchy at night.

The killing of Floyd unleashed built-up rage and despair by black American citizens. The protests were initiated as a cry for help and a plea to those in power to take action. People of color in America and across the world have had enough. They are tired of being made to feel as if they don’t matter. They are tired of being treated like second-class citizens. They are fed up with the handling of police brutality cases, especially those involving black victims.

A lack of leadership, from powerful black voices and from the government and police forces, has led to malicious rioters with no connection to the cause, turning the peaceful protests into opportunities to steal and do harm to the protesters and others. Innocent businesses and properties have been vandalized, looted, and even burned. This is what can happen when hurt and angry masses are without a true leader – violent mobocracy ensues.

The present level of violence is a way to express the hurt of the masses, but it is not the best way to move forward and come up with solutions to the injustices. Who will step forward to be the voice of the people? Who will have the courage to address the masses and listen to their concerns? Black people started protesting because they felt as if their lives were seen as not important and they were not treated with respect. The failure of those in power and those with influence to come together and speak with one united voice has been a detriment to improving the situation. Without a clear plan of action, violence will remain and the conflict will grow.

As a Zimbabwean-born youth, I am aware of the consequences that come with trying to fight oppression with violence. When Zimbabwe gained its independence in the 1980s, the leaders in power called for hate and violence against former oppressors and chased them out of the country with force. This was one of the first decisions that had a domino effect on the country, turning Zimbabwe from Africa’s breadbasket to a poverty-stricken country with little hope for change. 

If you juxtapose this with how South Africa handled its freedom after apartheid ended, you will see a stark difference. When Nelson Mandela was released from jail after 27 years of political imprisonment, he called for peace. Millions of South Africans of color were ready to take revenge and inflict violence on their white oppressors, but Mandela rebuked the notion. He called for reconciliation and urged South Africans of color to forgive and unite as a country. This led to a stronger country and it paved the way for South Africa to become the most advanced country in Africa. Millions of Zimbabweans – my family included – migrated to South Africa due to economic degradation and political bigotry at home. I cannot think of a better lesson that history can teach us: Violence is not the answer.

As human beings seeking a better future for all, we need to realize what is important. We need to remember that this is not a fight by black people against the individuals who wear police uniforms – it is a fight against racism and discrimination. The only way to achieve peace and ensure that events such as George Floyd’s murder stop occurring is through reconciliation. We need our leaders to step forward and have discussions with black communities to ensure that their grievances are attended to. We also need huge reform in American police forces. Government-funded services such as these also need to ensure that cases of discrimination and racial prejudice are dealt with thoroughly, showing respect for any lives lost and any injustice that has occurred. A slap on the wrist for perpetrators in the form of short suspensions or even dismissals is not enough. Perhaps it might even be necessary to create new government posts focused on improving the relationship between citizens and government services like the police forces. 

At the end of the day, police officers are people too. Yes, violent rioting will cause disruption and force people to pay attention, but that is not the way toward a peaceful solution. At the same time, the grievances of the oppressed masses need to be attended to, instead of dismissing protesters as rowdy and problematic. The way forward is through unity, and this can only be achieved if both sides are willing to come to the table.

1 Comment

  • By Nicola Joubert on 5 June 2020 at 4:40 pm

    Excellent article by a mature young man.

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