Miners Shot Down, an award-winning documentary, brilliantly reveals how government, police and big business work hand-in-glove to suppress class struggle, writes Colin Revolting.
16 August, 2012. South African police open fire on striking platinum miners at Lonmin’s Marikana mine, North West Province, SA. 112 miners shot, 34 die. Echoes of apartheid-era massacres – Sharpeville 1960, Soweto 1976 – are inescapable.
To mark the third anniversary of this tragic event, War On Want held a commemoration at Unite HQ. Miners Shot Down, the award-winning documentary, was shown, followed by a Q&A with the film’s director, Rehad Desai, and lawyer for some of the miners families, Jim Nichol.
The film is a truly powerful experience, showing in almost forensic detail the days leading up to the killings.
Having previously been betrayed by the National Union of Mineworkers (NUM), the Marikana miners joined the Association of Mineworkers and Construction Union (AMCU), which broke away from the former body in 1998.
The NUM had been built by anti-apartheid fighters such as Cyril Ramaphosa. As well as now being in the government, Ramaphose is a multi-millionaire businessman who sits on the board of Lonmin Platium, the owners of the Marikana mine. As the strike for a wage increase was beginning to bite on Lonmin Platinum’s profits, the company called on the African National Congress (ANC) government for support to defeat the workers.
The film brilliantly mixes police camera footage, Lonmin surveillance film, live TV coverage of the massacre and recordings of the commission. Interwoven are interviews with many of the key players: strike committee members; lawyers; police commanders; and Cyril Ramaphosa himself.
The Farlam Commission was ostensibly set up to look into the events. However, as Jim Nichol – one of the lawyers for the mineworkers’ families – described in the Q&A, it was actually designed to “kick the issue into the long grass”, in a similar way to the Bloody Sunday Inquiry, with which he was also involved.
Day-by-day, the film reveals events in the week leading up to the massacre. The bravery of the ordinary mineworkers and their rank-and-file leaders is incredible and becomes more stunning as events unfold. At the beginning of the week, they are shot at by local NUM, hounded by Lonmin’s army of private security guards and then by the South African Police Service. Meanwhile, emails are being exchanged between the company managers, Minister of Police and Cyril Ramaphosa, urging for the extreme measures to be taken to make the strikers surrender.
The film shows that on the 16 August, the miners choose to leave the hill they have been occupying and are singing as they walk back to their huts. A rash of bullets, so many that it sounds like a public firework display, brings down scores of men. One of the strikers later describes lying on the ground, having been hit by police bullets and dead bodies around him, thinking, “the only thing I am dying for is money.” Many mineworkers are wounded, 17 are dead.
But it doesn’t end there. For the next twenty minutes, the police pursue the strikers, picking them off one-by-one. Another 17 are murdered whilst fleeing. Ambulances are not allowed to attend the scene for an hour.
Any thought that the killings are somehow spontaneous are dismissed as the film describes the amount of extra guns and mortuary vans that the police brought to the mine on the day.
Jim Nichol described how, incredibly, “the strike committee returned to the hill that very night and resolved to continue the strike.”
The strikers fought on for four more weeks until they won significant wage increases and within months, unofficial wildcat strikes spread across the country.
The film brilliantly portrays the way government, police and big business work hand-in-hand to confront workers in struggle, and also crucially shows the incredible resilience of our side even against such almost unimaginable oppression.
Film-maker Rehad Desai has a long track record as a socialist – I remember being on a picket line in London’s West End when he was dragged off by police in 1978. This caused some amusement amongst his comrades, as he was quickly released due to being under 16.
The only real omission from the film is the voices of the women, mothers and wives of the miners. At the screening, Rehad described, over a crackling phone line from South Africa, the growing role of the women who watched the massacre live on TV, attended the commission day-in-day-out. Some of these women have taken up jobs in the mine – sometimes the exact role of their dead husbands – to ensure their families’ livelihood and have joined directly into the union fight.
On the third anniversary of the murders, we remember the miners in a Demonstration Against the Brutal Marikana Massacre. South Africa House, Trafalgar Square, London. 3-5pm Sunday 16th.
The film and much more campaigning information is available copyleft http://www.minersshotdown.co.za/, perfect for screenings at groups and other meetings.
Credit for all images goes to Uhuru Productions/Novus Media