South Africa’s President Cyril Ramaphosa on Friday said he “deeply regretted” the unjustified use of force by security forces enforcing lockdown rules during anti-racism rallies, drawing parallels to the killing of George Floyd in the United States last week.
Dozens of people showed up at a small handful of anti-racism protests called across South Africa in solidarity with Floyd, whose death has sparked widespread demonstrations in America and movements across the globe.
The ruling African National Congress (ANC) party launched an anti-racism campaign on Friday, calling on citizens to wear black in a show of support.
“Racism is a dehumanisation of others,” Ramaphosa said at a virtual launch of the campaign.
“It is true of the experience of black and indigenous communities of many countries across the world where racial profiling by law enforcement authorities… is common,” he added.
“But I would argue a similar process of dehumanisation is at work where those in positions of power violate the rights of vulnerable people in all societies.”
The president referred to the recent death of Johannesburg resident Collins Khosa and ten other South Africans “reportedly at the hands of our security forces” as an example of “unjustified” violence.
Khosa was allegedly beaten to death by security forces in April after they reportedly caught him drinking a cup of alcohol over dinner — the sale of which was banned at the start of a coronavirus lockdown.
A court has since ordered the suspension of all soldiers and police officers present near Khosa’s home when he was killed.
“The death of Collins Khosa and ten other South Africans… is something that I deeply regret,” Ramaphosa said, vowing that perpetrators would “face the full might of law”.
“While they do not have the obvious racial dimensions of the murder of George Floyd, they do rely on a similar contempt for the intrinsic human worth of the victim,” the president added.
“Such acts must be condemned just as vehemently and must be combatted with equal intensity.”
South Africa rolled out one of the world’s strictest lockdowns on March 27 to limit the spread of coronavirus, which has infected more than 43,400 people and killed at least 908 to date.
Military soldiers were deployed to help police enforce confinement measures, which have been particularly taxing on poorer overcrowded neighbourhoods.
Alleged heavyhandedness by security forces has drawn widespread condemnation and scepticism over the ANC’s new anti-racism drive.
“Why are South Africans being called upon by our government to support a movement on the other side of the world, when this same government of ours has killed poor black people with callous regard for decades?” asked former Johannesburg mayor Herman Mashaba in an opinion piece on Thursday accusing the ANC of “hypocrisy”.
The protests were sparked by a US police officer kneeling on Floyd’s neck for almost nine minutes as he pleaded for his life.