Documentary 'gives Marikana miners a voice'

'We need to know and remember ... what happened at Marikana,' says Rehad Desai. (Paul Botes, M&G)

'We need to know and remember ... what happened at Marikana,' says Rehad Desai. (Paul Botes, M&G)

It was like a scene from the darkest days of apartheid: South African police opening fire with live ammunition, killing 34 striking black miners demanding a living wage from an international firm rich in capital.

But the killings outside of the Marikana mine of platinum company Lonmin happened on August 16 2012, almost two decades after Nelson Mandela’s rainbow nation exchanged white minority rule for multiracial democracy.

A new documentary, Miners Shot Down by local filmmaker Rehad Desai, explores the events leading up to what has been dubbed the Marikana massacre.

The film has a special resonance at the moment because most of the country’s platinum miners have been on strike for a monthly wage of R12 500 for the past 15 weeks and general elections are to be held on Wednesday.

“The key thing here, really, is that R12  500 was the formal demand,” said Desai at a Johannesburg screening of the documentary on Workers’ Day on Thursday last week.

“But what really stuck in the throat of these mine workers was [having] their dignity stripped off them because their bosses weren’t prepared to talk to them as human beings.

“I think we need to know and remember, now and for the years to come and for our children, what happened at Marikana.”

News footage
The film draws on interviews with survivors and uses footage including a video recording of the shootings by news agency Reuters cameraman Dinky Mkhize.

Desai’s documentary begins a week before the killings, after an illegal strike erupted at Lonmin’s operations, generating a spiral of violence.

South Africa’s platinum belt was in the grip of a vicious and still unfinished turf war between the Association of Mineworkers and Construction Union (Amcu) and the once unrivalled National Union of Mineworkers (NUM).

The film shows workers trying to speak to mine managers and being rebuffed as the violence, which included the murder of police officers and security guards, escalates.

“The life of a black person is so cheap in South Africa, they will kill us,” Amcu president Joseph Mathunjwa, who is leading the mining strike, says in archival footage recorded hours before the slayings.

While relative pay and conditions have improved since the end of apartheid, many black miners still feel they have not benefited fairly from the nation’s mineral wealth for the hard and often dangerous work they do underground.

Apology from the top
Lonmin chief executive Ben Magara apologised to the families of the slain Marikana miners last year at an event marking its first anniversary.

Desai said his sense that justice has not been done for the miners, as a commission of inquiry into the incident drags on, was his motivation for making the 80-minute film.

“I couldn’t ignore it, it was much too big, much too dramatic and upsetting for me,” he said.

“I had to do something for these miners. I just felt that I had to give them a voice. If authority strikes in such a brutal fashion, artists have to pick a side and indicate which side they’re on,” he said.

The film has had local and international screenings already, including at the Paris Human Rights International Film Festival and the One World Film Festival in Prague.

Desai’s other films have included Born into Struggle, which looks at the toll that his father’s anti-apartheid activism in exile from South Africa took on the family.
– Reuters

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