Online activism: South Africa and #BlackLivesMatter

By: Marthinus Conradie

An opinion from The University of Freestate

Anti-racist protests are flourishing across the United States, as protestors oppose the systemic racism that drives police brutality against African Americans. South Africans can relate to these calls for lasting and meaningful steps towards justice. This moment of solidarity offers an opportunity to question what the future of transnational collaborations for equity might hold.

In 2018, Professor Krystal Strong (University of Pennsylvania) applauded South African activists for supporting BlackLivesMatter. However, American activists have been a little slower to reciprocate. Professor Strong (2018) explains that South Africans actually have good reason to expect solidarity from the US. For one thing, BlackLivesMatter and movements like FeesMustFall share core characteristics. Both movements were instigated by the youth. Both movements have mobilised social media and could easily have communicated with each other. Both movements aim to advance intersectional social justice. Many university and college students in America also face crippling tuition debts and can therefore relate to FeesMustFall, to a degree. Put differently, South Africans can understand the urgency of unmaking systemic racism. But can US activists relate to our challenges? Strong’s (2018) answer is – yes, they can. They might need a little help with understanding the details of our context, which can be done via social media, but – yes, they can. However, let me clarify something: I am not hurling accusations against US activists or calling on South Africans to disengage from BlackLivesMatters. Instead, what I am suggesting is that we already possess a tool for communicating shared concerns, and for enhancing transnational co-operation: social media. We just need to reflect on how to use it.

Right now, many websites are devoted to sharing news about social justice issues. Great! More importantly, many of these websites offer spaces for readers to comment and communicate with fellow readers. Great! However, perhaps we are not actually using the comment sections as rigorously as we can by, for example, commenting on US stories and inviting them to comment on our news. Okay, to be fair, talking to fellow South Africans can be difficult enough. We might not feel up to talking with people from other countries. I suggest that it might still be worth trying. The more connected we become, the greater the chances of effecting meaningful change. Political differences within South Africa are daunting. But we are not the only nation with so many internal differences. We are not the only nation faced with systemic injustice. Sharing ideas with people from completely different countries will be difficult, but our projects towards social justice might benefit if we can draw from insights and perspectives generated by as many minds as possible.



Strong, K. 2018. Do African Lives Matter to Black Lives Matter? Youth Uprisings and the Borders of Solidarity. Urban Education. 53(2): 265-285.

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