Film Review in Session: “Miners shot down”

Earlier this week I was fortunate enough to watch a screening of “Miners Shot Down” 2 months before its official cinematic release.

The film is directed by Rehad Desai and is considered a documentary in association with Ford Foundation and Uhuru Productions. It helped in regulating the noise of media coherently. The documentary documents the events causing, leading up to, and the ramifications after what the media have dubbed the “Marikana massacre”. For 7 days, the Marikana mine in South Africa was the home of extreme bloodshed and the violation of gross human rights. Mine workers were protesting for an increase  in wages, from platinum mining business Lonmin,in the face of escalating problems in work conditions and the general circumstances of basic survival in South Africa. This has been dubbed a “Political thriller” and reveals the almost dystopic reality we exist in where the extent of the “mechanism of power in South Africa” could be likened to a jagganuat fixated purely on expansion, indifferent to the exploitation of the poorest.

Essentially, the film conveyed the way in which international money protects itself by any, and all means, necessary. Cyril Ramaphosa said that: “There is no such thing as a Liberal Bourgeoisie”. Today Cyril, a prior pioneer of trade union justice, sits on the board of the Lonmin mine company-the company central to the Marikana debacle. He stated his understanding of the South African way of voicing their concerns through strikes, as well as acknowledging strikes as an integral part of the process for the pursuit of change since perceived democracy was attained in 1994. He, however, does not believe in condoning violent action in the face of getting your interests met.

The film and more specifically, the redundant verbiage of that key figure to the Marikana case that was interviewed, returns us to the perceived independence of South Africa from the Apartheid system, and makes one question what exactly has changed. Some argue that simply administration has changed, interests become skewered in the face of global conglomerate politics, the interests of the state no longer lie with the people, and that the socioeconomic situations of the ordinary man remain the same.

The film unveils the way in which the police force killed in protection of the Capitalist ideal. Statements made by the police chief assure the police force that actions taken on the day of the massacre were for “self-defence” and in service of the people of South Africa.

Marikana, and the subsequent strike actions following its occurrence are considered the longest in Post-Apartheid South African history. The massacre is equated with the violent brutality seen in the Sharpeville Massacre of 1960.

Early in the film a lists of victims rolled through the screen in homage of lives lost, and in solidarity of the grief-stricken families. Continues chronological trajectories are disregarded in the film with changes occurring in various stages. This is due to key critiques made by stately figures whose opinions are considered important in providing perspective. Their clear reflections make audiences finely assess the situation enough to have informed reactions.

The film used a combination of data retrieved during investigations by the Marikana Commission of Inquiry, sanctioned security video footage from the police, and raw footage from photojournalists and video journalists, “expert” commentary, interviews and critiques, as well as eye-witness/victim accounts of events. Tholakele and Mzoxolo were part of the strike, and are two central narrators of the film who are facing murder charges due to the perceived wrongdoings they did in the massacre.

The Press release of the company disregarded the prior approach workers used, and turned a blind eye to the negotiations the trade workers wished to instigate when they marched to the Managers offices. Issues of politics, race, education, socioeconomics, class etc. were brought to the fore by the Trade Union leaders, strike heads, as well as used in justifications of intentions, actions and general labour relation norms by the ranking officials.

I recognized a metaphor in the strikers sitting on a mountain top during the strike. Perhaps something to do with steadfastness and overcoming hurdles.

Advocate Nduma was identified as representative of the deceased’s families, and Ames Nicol was the lawyer for the deceased’s families at the Marikana Commission of Inquiry. The film proceeded to show the Marikana Commission of Inquiry proceedings. Such as the set-up was, it was reminiscent of the Truth & Reconciliation structure. Families could be seen in the audience seats crying at exposed truths on the vicious nature of the victims’ wounds and subsequent deaths, as well as the state officials’ unashamed indifference of accepting blame of the situation.

In the Marikana Commission of Inquiry, when the question cropped up of who issued orders to instigate violence on the crowd, scapegoating and vague responses relating to chain of command and mass communications agreed upon prior, lead to confusion.

Weapons like the Phanga’s were utilized as much as songs, as a tool to portray the strikers need to protect themselves due to the circumstances, and intimidate where necessary. Several days before the massacre, General Mbembe was seen as amicable before he took a phone call from his supervisor halfway through discussions with the walking group of strikers. After a terse phone call, he was radical in his endeavour to squash the strike and get the weapons with force. The Police footage shows the striking workers stated that they have no issue with the police; they simply want to fix their financial predicament when the “white mans” way had led to stagnation in their need to pursue their goal. They articulated that the police are not meant to be a shield between people and their rights.

Watching the untampered-with footage, one can see that following that initial verbal altercation, the strikers had a march towards the mountain , with a walk considered solid and deliberate, devoid of any violence, but enthused with the spirit of purpose. The problem began with teargas being thrown in the crowd, only then did people begin running. The chaos that ensued led to 3 deaths – one by stabbing. Given the location so far from the initial scene, the death looked like an execution. 2 Policeman were killed, and therefore, the deaths of 2 of the 3 workers seemed like retaliation for cop deaths.

The Necklacing that occurred during the time of Apartheid was mirrored in the following days; fierce images of a targeted person laid on the streets with a cow head on their chest – the markings of a traitor. Media – from Radio, television, photojournalism etc. – was deeply entrenched in following the process of negotiations of mine workers interests and creating awareness of the issues encountered from past to present.

The former Minister of Intelligence questioned that incident, as well as the primary day of massacre as to: why police would react that violent way when the protesters were not in possession of arms equivalently dangerous to the immense firearms the police used, were not blocking highways, were not holding court at any strategic land points, nor did they have any form of menacing tactical affiliates in dubious and restricted locations. Police brought a hostage negotiator to a passive/aggressive strike event. The Police wanted a surrendering of leaders and/or the instigators of this strike action.

An incredible transcript that was attempted to be buried revealed that the police commissioner and a Lonmin representative orchestrated a plan of violent action to take place if cooperation was not reached with the strikers. They stated that “we should kill it”. Thus this evidence proves that the actions taken on the day of the massacre were not self-defence but barefaced and ruthless carnage to maintain power and protect economic interests.

Private security, Policeman, and soldiers in full tactical military gear were at a cordoned off area. They were geared for violent attacks, while, on the mountain sat the workers who had blankets covering them, a few phanga’s, strong speeches etc. marking their presence.

Cyril declined to answer a question regarding whether he, given his stance and current job, thought to approach the mine workers. In a recovered email during the Inquisition, he advised that the strike was a criminal acts and not a labour dispute. He said he’d been in contact with a police official who would brief the president. He stated that “pointed action” should take place – this said 24hrs before the massacre.

A day before the massacre, the police refused for Joseph, the head of the trade union, to talk to the people on the mountain, except through an armoured vehicle. The Trade Union head then proceeded to say “but these are just people…Let us just walk through”. On the day of the massacre it was clear from Joseph’s speech that he was briefed on what the ramifications would be should the strikers not dissipate and return home, as words like “bloodshed” were used repetitively in his last speech.

16 August 2012 was the day of the Marikana massacre. Soldiers, 648 police deployed, and 4000 rounds of ammo were deployed. In a statement of anticipation I find so despicably clear of the police’s intentions, 4 vans from the mortuary were ordered. The policeman prayed before embarking on their shootfest. Despite ¾ of the people listening and moving after Joseph and Mambush spoke, saying that they should leave, the police continued to stand at a defensive stance to attack the homebound crowd. The Commander issued the order to initiate stage 3, which includes disarming. The police proceeded to box the outgoing crowd in, despite receiving no threat to initiate such defensive tactics. In the found footage, one can clearly see the people with their hands up in surrender, and they were crouched forward in a submissive pose. People were repeatedly shot while in those position. Victims were animalized by the police on scene. There was also an inhuman handling of the dead bodies. People were faking death to survive the post-massacre search the police did for survivors. For 20 minutes they carried on hunting people down and killing them after the initial massacre, with the high authorities briefed on the current situation at ground zero. Police footage shows the utter inhumanity of the police man. They mocked the victims, kicked dead bodies aside, shot them in their sexual organs and through their necks, and did not help those still clinging to the dredges of life.17 people were shot at scene 1, and 17 shot at scene 2. Ambulances were banned from the scenes till 1 hour after massacre.

To date, no officers have been reported or arrested.

The police commissioner stated in their speech: “The best of policing…you did what you had to do”.

If those that are in power don’t answer for this, who gave the order?

If no order was given, why aren’t the policemen who were present at the massacre not accounting for their actions?

Who is to blame?

It cannot wholly be the dead workers.

It is easy, however, to pass blame on those who cannot answer for imagined slights.

This film was a truly powerful visual journey, encompassing the realities of documentary filmmaking, quality production, creating global awareness regarding specific issues, and unleashing activist principles and activating audiences humanity ,moral thresholds and sparking critical thinking in a lucrative entertainment  platform sure to reach millions globally.

A solid 8/10

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