Paris Screenings of Miners Shot Down

March 20 2014

I arrived in Paris after a red eye flight from London on the 16th of March. Pollution levels were so high that public transport had been declared free and the Parisians were out on the streets in numbers. The sun was out making it feel like a summers days and the location of my hotel, next to the wonderfully grand Hotel de Ville municipal building, made the three-day stop that extra special. My mood was enhanced by the news of the release of Makhanya one of the two strike leaders who had helped me make the film.

 HotelVilleParis

The two Miners Shot Down screenings were well attended but the discussions in the cinema were very different. The first was full of questions and comments that asked the hard questions about how and why this could happen under a government controlled by the ANC and what had happened to the NUM. It was clear that a number of people in the cinema had been lifelong supporters of both and were visibly shocked.

Paris Human Rights International Film Festival

Paris Human Rights International Film Festival

My response tried to take into account the great sorrow that was palpably present. I too felt the same way following the massacre and the subsequent revelations that began to paint a clear picture of collusion. A picture of a backroom conspiracy to break the strike and to meet Lonmin’s economic needs, needs that were in line with governmental and political requirements, who saw the strike as being a threat to the ANC, NUM and to Cyril Ramaphosa himself. The second screening had a much younger audience and the questions were more focused on what actually happened, looking at the police shooting in particular, and what the consequences of the shooting had been. In relation to the latter I focused on the positive, discussing the political fallout that the incident has created inside our movement and NUMSA’s resolution.

A young labour activist was eager to talk following the screening and he committed himself to getting the film shown to as many sympathetic trade unions as possible and to visit South Africa soon. A young festival volunteer subsequently wrote to ask how she could help with our campaign in France and we now have plans for her to assist in translating the film into French.

It was heartening to see that these people felt as indignant as our own. Indeed an injury to one is an injury to all.

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The World Premiere of Miners Shot Down in Prague

March 3 2014

I landed in Prague for the world premiere of Miners Shot Down and was whisked off to the Festival office where I met the guest coordinator, the press liaison officer and a host of other friendly festival staff. This was quickly followed by a TV interview, and a print and radio interview, all of which were conducted very professionally.

Rather exhausted from the flight, I headed back to the hotel for a rest, only to discover I had to be at the cinema where the opening night ceremony was to be held, in an hour’s time.  The cinema is inside what was once a beautiful designed theatre from the era of the Hapsburg Empire. It seats 450 people and sports a huge screen with picture quality par excellence. I was then informed that this is only one of two openings – there would be another public screening, which is where the Q&A would take place.

ImageI am invited to speak at the opening ceremony, what do I say? Lucky enough I have a story that I would like to relay. The core of it goes something like this…

In 1977, my father relayed a story to me about his own political history as a word of caution in relation to my recent involvement with a far left socialist group in the UK.

“The communists can be very dogmatic, you need to be careful. In 1968, Dubcek’s Prague Spring brought a liberalization of the socialist Czechoslovakian state and the Soviets that had rolled into Czechoslovakia, pushed back. He was carried away in chains and I cried and cried that day. That is when I finally turned my back on Soviet-styled communism and the South African Communist Party, for good”.

ImageThe Marikana massacre was to me, and I dare say to hundred of thousands of others, a similar representation. The moment the ANC turned the guns of the state on its own people, from that point on, there was no going back.  Overnight, African Nationalism had become a reactionary force.  It may be simplistic, but there is real emotive truth in what I say and this means that we have a shared history.

At the public ceremony Q&A, the 200-seater cinema was packed! The questions were focused and generally pointed to the ‘why and how’, as well as looking into the response of the South African people to the killings. I tried to keep my answers short and specific to the massacre, but this proved a challenge. However, most of what I said seemed to strike a note with the generally young audience, most of whom were under 35.

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At the after party scores of people approached me, many visibly emotional about what they had seen, and expressing their disappointments in SA after having so much potential in our country. It became clear to me that this event belongs to the world. If the film is eliciting this kind of response from one small corner of the world, it is clear that the outrage will be shared by millions of people from all corners.

“The cold-blooded murder of workers for simply going on strike belongs to the beginning of the last century and the century before that. How can this be happening in today’s world? I am ashamed that this can happen.”

That night this was said to be in one form or another, time and time again. It affirmed that we are not alone. We will never be alone.

Return to Miners Shot Down website.

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Miners Shot Down Press Screening

26 February 2014

On Wednesday afternoon a special Press Screening of Miners Shot Down was held, which was attended by some of the most insightful and onside journalists, writers, TV producers and art critics around. In their numbers were Leon van Nierop and Samantha Hargreaves, both of whom were emotionally disturbed by the film, and Barry Ronge, who was so upset that he had to leave the cinema immediately after the film credits started rolling. It was very hard to hold it together seeing these people and numerous other so tearful, so angry. I had to keep my interactions with them and others short, for fear of openly crying myself.

ImageBarry managed to get a few words out, “this is a movie, a real movie and such a powerful story”. It was very affirming to hear such words from our leading film critic. Academic and social commentators Patrick Bond and Ben Cashdan, were similarly charged up. Iain Benson, a Canadian lawyer, writer and teacher, whom I had never met before, immediately offered support in any way that he could. SABC commissioning editors were willing to champion the film in the corridors of that troubled institution and Chris Nicklin of Sabido productions wanted to do the same at ETV and ENCA. A young City Press journalist insisted that the film is going to get a full page spread.

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This story has touched a raw nerve and I now remain more convinced than ever before that this film can create serious impact. It can greatly assist to ensure justice is served, which will have to mean that the authors of these killings are held accountable. It will spur on social justice and political activism.

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Collectively we have a powerful group of people lining up behind this film and every individual can do something small. Our combined efforts will mean we can do something big. That something big is holding the line, ensuring that this collusion between big corporations, the government and our state, to massacre ordinary workers in order to secure profits, is never allowed to happen again.

It’s no easy battle, but if we stay the course we can win.

We have to win, because people like Makhanya remain in custody, are being refused bail, and interrogated by the National Intelligence Agency. He has no option but to fight on at great personal cost, because he and the 100, 000 behind him, are engaged in the most protracted and political strike the new South Africa has witnessed to date. This is a strike to live their lives with dignity and a strike to allow them to escape the poverty trap. Now NUMSA wants to assist and bring a high court action to have him released, as people are no longer sitting back resigning themselves to this quagmire we find ourselves in as a country.

Bigger strikes and indeed bigger political battles lay ahead in the coming months and years and we need to lay down the groundwork for this contestation in whatever we can.  I can go on, but I feel like I am getting a bit preachy, so good night Makhanya and Jacob good night my fellow fighters.

Return to Miners Shot Down website.

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Arrest of Makhanya Siphamandla and Jacob Khoza

26 February 2014

On Wednesday morning, I was informed that my close friend and fellow comrade, Makhanya Siphamandla, the most astute, serene and effective young mineworker leader around, was arrested with Jacob Khoza his second in command on trumped charges of attempted murder and public violence. They were the 72nd and 73rd people to be arrested in the Rustenburg area on public violence charges over the past three months. The others were all community activists battling it out with their tribal authorities and not much older than 30 years of age – a clear sign that our youth have awakened.

As the chair of all AMCU branches at Amplats, the world’s biggest platinum producer, Makhanya Siphamandla represents 40,000 workers and remains an inspiration to me. He is gentle, strong, intelligent, and a moral giant. He is steadfast in his principles, but has the agility of mind to think dialectically. He is indeed the most influential worker leader in the present wage negotiation that involves 100, 000 strikers in the platinum sector and is now entering its fifth week. This is why he was arrested. That is why Amplats has personally served him with a R591 million damages claim against his union. It’s David versus Goliath.

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Interview with Redi Tlhabi on 702

25 February 2014

The last few days have been a complete whirlwind, with the highlight being my appearance on Redi Tlhabi’s 702 show on Tuesday. She was incredible at drawing the important answers out of me by asking all the right questions, and always with such insight and humility. It was interesting to get insights into the different perspectives and beliefs of the callers that phoned into the show. Many of them still expressed the conventional opinion of South Africa, “what could the police do, they were under attack?”

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Thankfully, due to the sterling work of the legal teams at The Marikana Commission of Inquiry, this kind of narrative is coming under severe pressure, as the tables are slowly being turned. The footage that our production team released in October last year, investigating the events leading up to that fateful police shooting, has played a part in helping to dispel this myth. The idea that the incident was in fact nothing less than a police ambush, is gathering real momentum as more information is released to the public. Some of those who phoned in to the show expressed their rage and sense of injustice, as well as a heartfelt appreciation for the fact that we now have a film that takes on those that hold power in our society.

Return to Miners Shot Down website.

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