A damning indictment of the collaboration between Lonmin management, mine security and the police that led to the bloodshed at Marikana lies at the heart of an explosive film that premiered in Cape Town and Prague last night (Monday, March 3).
What is deeply disturbing is the fact that four mortuary vans were ordered in advance and that ambulance services and emergency medical personnel were apparently kept out of the killing fields for an hour after the shooting had stopped.
Miners Shot Down had its world premiere at the One World Festival in Prague, Czech republic, and was screened as part of a meeting of social justice lawyers in Cape Town’s convention centre.
Film maker Rehad Desai was in Marikana filming for two days before August 16, 2012 when 34 striking miners were shot dead and more than 100 wounded. Since then he has interviewed survivors and other participants, including ANC deputy president Cyril Ramaphosa, a Lonmin director.
Most importantly, he was able to access police and mine security film and other documentary evidence that has emerged during the still ongoing Farlam commission of inquiry into the tragedy.
The documents clearly reveal the attempts by Lonmin to criminalise the strike by rock drill operators without whose labour no mining can take place. One of the most damning of these is an email by Ramaphosa maintaining that the action of the miners is not a strike but a criminal act.
Film footage of the miners throughout the period leading up to the killings also reveals their pleas to negotiate with management about their pay and conditions. They had also armed themselves with sticks, spears and knives because they feared, with apparent justification, being attacked and killed.
The pleas to management were ignored, with the police taking on the role of negotiation, but only to order the miners, squatting on public ground, away from any mine facilities, to disarm and disperse. Throughout this time, there was close co-operation between mine management and security and the police.
After days of this stand-off and seeing paramilitary units appearing to ready their weapons, many of the strikers decided to return to their shantytown homes. Film footage reveals that police had, by that stage, effectively “boxed in” the miners and the scene was set for the worst bloodshed since the demise of apartheid.
As Desai has noted: “It is the first time that the ANC had turned their guns on the very people who brought them to power.”
An hour after the shooting had stopped police arrested 270 miners, some of them wounded and several now permanently disabled and, in a bizarre twist, charged them with the murder of their 34 workmates.
The charges were brought under the notorious doctrine of common purpose and the 270 are still under this indictment. As a result, lawyers acting for the families of the slain miners have demanded that the police responsible for the shootings be charged. But, as former ANC intelligence minister Ronnie Kasrils noted in a panel discussion after the Cape Town screening: “It is not only the foot soldiers [who should be prosecuted] but those who pulled the strings.”
Negotiations are now underway for the film to be screened in Holland, the Scandinavian countries and other parts of Europe, with the possibility that the BBC in Britain will flight it. Desai admits that he is not confident that any of the South African television channels will screen Miners Shot Down — and certainly not before the May 7 election. However, a series of public and film club screenings has been planned.
Watch the trailer (below)