Our first stop was Indiana University, Bloomington hosted by the African and Afro – American Studies Department. They screened in the film in their state of the art cinema, 70 folks turned up and the vast majority stayed for the discussion, the folks were really engaged and some of them visibly disturbed by what they saw. The town is small , dare I say quaint, and their autumn in full swing, given the abundance of large trees made it a resplendent sight and given the wonderful weather and very comfortable small country inn I had been booked into made it a very pleasant stay. Jim and I gave a class the following day and the students were in the main from working class backgrounds, they were bright and alert to what they had watched and began shortly before the class ended to make the links between what they saw in the film and their own society.
Next Stop Ohio State University, again a beautiful campus and first class cinema, about 50 people, a number of whom were black South Africans, it raised the intensity of the discussion. The Black Matters Live campaign were there with posters connecting what was happening in the US and South Africa, most impressive.. Franco Barchiesi, a good friend and one of the sharpest radical academics I have the pleasure to know organised this leg of the tour and is indeed one of the moving spirits of the tour, ensuring that my flight costs were covered. Ohio State incidentally is also the home Kent State University, which saw four students brutally gunned down by the National Guard in 1970 during an anti Vietnam war demonstration that sparked a massive reaction across American campus’s, that in large part was to end America’s imperialist exploits. Like Marikana, many students were charged for the murder of their own comrades. Like Marikana, many citizens believed that they were partly responsible for their own deaths.
This university screening was followed by a public meeting the following day hosted by a local public service employees trade union, students against sweatshops and the International Socialists groupThe meeting was attended by about 40 people, mainly students. James Nicholl, the lawyer for the families of the murdered miners, whom appears in the film gave a short input followed by myself and a young black socialist, his speech was most interesting as he teased out the similarities of the black experience in America and that of South Africa. The discussion that followed was animated and passionate. It was heartening to see so many young militants seriously engaged in the fight against oppression and exploitation making grounded, relevant points.
Third stop New York, lunch time screening at the Murphy Institute that runs university programme for trade union activists. The room was full by all accounts and the response very heartfelt. I was delayed by the shuttle that got caught up in picking people up from different terminals and then dropping them off at different points in Manhattan and so was not able to make it in time for the discussion, but John Treat, a trusted comrade whom has spent a lot of time in South Africa was able to fill in for me. Two more screenings followed this that same day, the second hosted by the Marikana Support Campaign that has been born out of the City University New York, Staff Association’s international committee. Great turn out and some wonderful contributions form old and young. The last screening blew me away, this was held in Harlem in the Betty Shabazz Centre, Betty was the wife the Malcolm X. This deserves a blog on it own.
Suffice to say, the Americans we have encountered on this tour have a deep connection to South Africa and maybe this has to do with their long fight to isolate apartheid in South Africa, a fight that continues to mirror their fight at home. Next stop, Howard University, Washington DC, one of America’s historically black universities.
Black Lives Matter – one struggle one fight
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.
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.
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.
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.
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”.
The 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.
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.
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.
Barry 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.
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.
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.
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.
Return to Miners Shot Down website.
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?”
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.