01 July 2016

History repeats itself: anti-racism and police brutality protests then and now

Over the past month we have seen an uprising in the United States (US) as videos started to surface showing the full extent of police brutality and biased treatment of African-Americans. This led to a new wave of anti-police brutality protests and marches. Mistreatment has been fought against by many over the last half century. 

The images and videos of the US protests send chills down the spines of many South Africans who lived under the apartheid regime. Even though there are many differences between what is occurring in the US and the anti-apartheid movement, there is a common thread in that both movements fight and fought against the mistreatment and marginalisation on the basis of race. Protests are often sparked by an extreme action, in this case the death of two individuals, Philando Castile and Alton Sterling in the case of US protests. During the apartheid era funerals of activists, such as Ashley Kriel, Robbie Waterwitch and Ms Coline Williams, played a similar role in the heightening emotions and were usually seen as the straws that broke the camel's back. If there was a murder or death the funeral was a place that people were able to gather support and engage in protest. 

In SAHA’s archives, there are a wealth of photos in our collections of those who stood up in support against the injustices, police brutality and mistreatment of black South Africans during apartheid. Murders were a common occurrence during apartheid by the police forces.

What these images speak to is that there will be those willing to speak up against mistreatment.  South Africa is in a better place today because of those who stepped up and spoke up. Perhaps the protests in the United States will lead to a national conversation around the issues being faced by its minority citizens. This may enact change in the US, or lead to future protests as no change takes effect.

The images below are of the police and of those in protest against the police in South Africa under apartheid.

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On the left, we have three bishops at the head of a funeral procession of 15 victims of clashes with the police in 1985. From left to right Desmond Tutu, Keith Sutton and Simeon Nkoane in KwaThema. Funerals during apartheid were a powerful platform often used to speak out against the apartheid government. On the right is a policeman firing tear gas in Soweto to control a crowd in 1980. 


This image is of a march held in Cape Town in in 1989 in defiance against South Africa’s government. 


This protest in Pietermaritzburg was against police brutality in 1989. Text on banners: "On 22 sept. Police surrounded st. Albans Cathedral with razor wire to prevent women planning to march to Union Buildings from attending a service. In response, we’re surrounding this place of worship to protest symbolically."

“we demand the freedom to worship without police intervention, the right to peaceful protest, an end to police violence"

SAHA is an archive which is focused on justice and accountability as well as committed to human rights. So it is with interest that we see the way that people today are expressing their rights.


Al Jazeera report on the two shootings in the United States (7 July 2016)

TRC report on public order policing in rural areas.