On African Liberation Day, while Leteefah Carter and her comrades gathered at the African-American Civil War Memorial on U Street to protest the U.S. economic sanctions against Zimbabwe, she reflected on the struggle for housing and land ownership affecting people of African descent across the world.
That common issue, Carter said, would suffice in broadening concern about the Southeastern African nation’s current woes among Black people living in the District, her Bedford-Stuyvesant neighborhood in Brooklyn, New York, and other majority-Black communities across the United States that have been ravaged by gentrification since the turn of the century.
“We want to widen [knowledge] of the atrocities in Zimbabwe and the sanctions the U.S. has committed,” said Carter, a Bed-Stuy resident of 20 years who counted among more than 50 protesters donning army fatigue pants, Black fitted caps with an X emblazoned across it, and yellow bandanas tied around their necks last Saturday.
Along their two-mile march to the White House, Carter and other members of the December 12th Movement, joined by the D.C. chapter of the National Black United Front and other local organizations, waved the Pan-African and Zimbabwe flags and chanted mantras that evoked approving nods and inquiries from onlookers along U Street, and later 14th Street leading to Lafayette Square.
“The people [in Zimbabwe] are suffering because they’ve taken back what’s theirs,” Carter continued. “I want Black people here to be aware of what’s happening and do something about it. We need to be more aware of the ethnic cleansing and genocide.”
In March, President Donald Trump extended sanctions against Zimbabwe, in effect since the early 2000s, and a move supported by the Congressional Black Caucus. Opponents have long described the sanctions as punishment for the Zimbabwe’s 1980 land reforms during which white farmers lost several acres acquired through colonialism, and what Trump calls a threat to U.S. foreign policy.
The December 12th Movement gathering on Saturday, and previous events are organized to pressure the White House and CBC to revisit its stance on Zimbabwe. Protesters particularly expressed a desire for Congresswoman Karen Bass (D-CA 37), head of the House Subcommittee on Africa, Global Health, Global Human Rights, and International Organizations, to host a hearing about the matter that prioritized the voice of the Zimbabwean people.
Though the U.S. government maintains that its sanctions exclusively target 141 people and entities, including Zimbabwe President Emmerson Mnangagwa and former President Robert Mugabe, opponents said the foreign policy decision has created hardship for most Zimbabweans.
Since 2001, Zimbabwe’s internal debt has expanded, and the country has experienced medical supply shortages. A recent UNICEF report showed that Cyclone Idai exacerbated the ongoing drought affecting more than 136,000 children in Zimbabwe, primarily because of the outbreak of cholera, malaria, and diarrhea.
The concept of using government resources to harm Black people struck a chord with Pam Africa, who has long advocated for the release of journalist Mumia Abu-Jamal and imprisoned members of MOVE, who survived the 1985 bombing on their Philadelphia compound by the local police department.
On Saturday, days after the release of Janine and Janet Africa and nearly a year after the release of Pam and Michael Africa Sr., she continued to express her solidarity with the Zimbabwean people.
“We have the same oppression as the people in Zimbabwe,” Pam Africa said.
“We are pulling together against one monster and Washington, D.C. is the hub. We are here to rock the boat and wake up people. [Some people] don’t want to show support because of the fear. I only fear that [the monster] will continue to exist unless we fight.”