‘Black Lives Matter’ explores Marikana residents’ fight against a mining company, a chief and a municipality

A poster for Black Lives Matter. (www.blacklivesmatter.com)

A poster for Black Lives Matter. (www.blacklivesmatter.com)

“Democracy is for the capitalists and their children’s children,” says activist Moekheti Khoda near the end of the documentary Black Lives Matter. 

Khoda, from Mapela in Limpopo, speaks truth to power throughout the 108-minute documentary, which was made by veteran journalist and filmmaker Joseph Oesi in the wake of the Marikana massacre.

Khoda is involved in fighting what she sees as an unholy nexus between the government, her chief and the mining company, Anglo Platinum.

She argues in the film that the chief had no authority to conduct a deal for mining to take place without consulting his people.

Khoda says people received no compensation and that when they protest against the deal, the police “brutalise” them.

“The chief is a leader; he doesn’t own the land, the land is ours,” she says. “Government gives too much power to the chief. Government and mining companies make deals with the chief alone.
The municipality, the chief, the mining company, they are one thing,” she says. 

“When you fight the municipality you die; when you fight the mine you die; when you fight the chief you die.”

Khoda’s story is replicated numerous times in Black Lives Matter as Oesi zooms in on the people of Mogale, Kekana and Mapela, who live on the world’s largest platinum belt.

Oesi shows the viewer that Marikana is just one among many sites of struggle and that Lonmin is one of many foreign mining companies that are after South Africa’s platinum.

He details how shady deals are being struck between chiefs, government and mining companies and shows how people are being affected and fighting back.

When the Marikana massacre occurred, Oesi was in the United Kingdom.

“I decided to get on a plane and come home,” he says. “Nobody was asking the question: Who owns land; who gave the rights to these mining companies.”

Oesi says he has a long track record of making films on the African continent about African problems.

He worked as a video-journalist for many news agencies and has covered conflict and war in the Democratic Republic of Congo, Ivory Coast and Somalia. He says he spent months on end in Rwanda during the genocide, talking to both sides.

“When I worked in conflict zones, my mandate was to get into the communities,” says Oesi. “What makes them tick, what makes them outrageous, what makes them disgusted.”

He says this experience helped him embed himself in the Mogales, Kekanas and Mapelas.

The level of anger in these areas, because of their marginalization, is real and perhaps artist Ayanda Mabulu’s angry outcry, “Bastards”, in the film sums it up best.

“Beware the frustrated nigger,” says Mabulu. “I’m one.”

While Oesi’s film does a great job of introducing the issues at play in the three different areas, its clear that these are ongoing struggles that are playing out beyond the timeline of the documentary.

In September 2015 the protestors in Mapela took to the streets, burning a chief’s office, a tribal office and a retirement home built by the mine. Forty protestors were arrested.

In March this year Kgoshi (Chief) Kgabagare Langa signed a R175-million settlement agreement with Anglo Platinum.

A few months later it was reported that Langa and his wife owned two companies that did R186-million a year in business with the mine.

The residents of Mapela have sought legal representation to challenge the deal that Langa signed.

Then Canadian mining company Ivanhoe threatened to interdict Oesi’s film, before the beginning of the Durban International Film Festival, years after he first approached them for an interview, which they declined.

Black Lives Matter had its debut in Durban and Oesi is talking to the Toronto and Vancouver international film festivals to show it there. The Human Rights Watch Festival, which takes place in New York and London, is interested, as are some broadcasters such as the BBC and PBS.

He says he would like his film to have a cinema run in South Africa and is scouting for a distributor and agent.

Oesi says he is not done yet with the mining companies either. He is interested in exploring the gold fields further: “There’s a whole other film there”

Lloyd Gedye

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