Marikana. As an event that saw a violent play off between strikers and policemen outside the Lonmin platinum mines near Rustenburg, it’s a word that haunts South Africa’s post-apartheid legacy. 34 strikers (mostly mineworkers) were killed, 78 injured. And in the preceding week, 10 more people were murdered, including 2 policemen and 2 security guards. The effects of the harrowing incident have leaked into arts, culture and politics, making many South Africans question and contribute to an extended conversation around wealth, power and privilege.
Every victim who died at the Marikana massacre had lives and had families. Mama Marikana is a documentary film that shares a different side to the story, giving a voice to the women left behind. Widows, mothers, sisters and community members have been forgotten but their struggle to move on, away from the event that changed their lives and their perspectives, continues. Working together, they provide a powerful voice to the women of the community through strength, agency and protest.
Mama Marikana follows five women: Primrose Nokulunga Sonti and Thumeka Magwangqana, leaders in Sikhala Sonke the Marikana Women’s group, Evelyn Seipati Mmeka a God-fearing mother of the community and Zameka Nungu, widow of the slain Jackson “Ace” Lehopa. The film follows the lives of theses women for two years, starting on the day of the Massacre, 16 August 2012, exposing “the growth of the Marikana Women’s Group, Sikhala Sonke, and a rise into parliament, personal sacrifices for the community and the empowerment of a victim” (Mama Marikana).
The director, Aliki Saragas, tells us that the film was inspired by an article she had read entitled ‘The Missing Women of Marikana’ by Camalita Naicker. We interviewed her and co-producer, Tessa Scott, to find out more, hearing first hand about the making of Mama Marikana.
Your story begins from the day of the massacre. How did you start the process so suddenly, or did you have to use other people’s footage?
Tessa: We started work on Mama Marikana at the beginning of 2014, but knew we needed footage from the past two years to properly tell this story.
Aliki: I managed to source archive material from the 2012 massacre and months that followed, as well as photographs from photojournalist, Greg Marinovich, and some footage filmed by Uhuru Productions, makers of the award-winning documentary Miners Shot Down.
And what was it like making a film over a 2 year period?
Tessa: During production, the crew spent much time filming in Marikana, getting to know the women at the centre of our story. Seeing the ins and outs of daily life in Marikana, spending time in their homes and filming intensely throughout the strike made us even more passionate, and we were sad to leave when filming was complete.
Aliki: The women’s story is so complex, nuanced and important for the history of Marikana. It needs to be pieced together in a way that expresses the power of their fight for justice and their community. It’s been a massive task condensing that into a film!
What message do you want people to leave with after watching the film?
Tessa: With Miner’s Shot Down being out there and being so powerful in its expository style of documentary making, we wanted to create something poetic and observational. We hope to show the humanity of the people living in Marikana and how they were affected by the massacre in their day to day lives. The film is about how these women are trying to turn their lives around, help their community cope and grow stronger in the wake of the massacre.
Aliki: From the beginning, I wanted this film to be an intimate portrait of the women that occupy the space of Marikana as well as their story over the past two years. The women’s struggles include dealing with the pain that the massacre left behind, their fight to empower themselves and their community beyond the tragedy, and rising from a disempowering page of post-Apartheid South African history. I want people to feel inspired and humbled by the women’s strength, as I am every day.
This must have been a difficult story to document, what were the challenges behind making the film?
Tessa: When we first visited the women of Sikhala Sonke and started exploring the complexities of telling their stories, we felt the weight of responsibility on us to represent them and the context of the massacre in a way that was fair and honest, but also knowing that we were tackling a very sensitive and politically complex topic.We were also entering people’s homes and asking them to allow us to film intimate parts of their lives. We had to be sensitive and aware of boundaries, and had to find the best way of navigating ourselves as a film crew in and around the Marikana community.
Aliki: The greatest challenge was emotionally coming to terms with the blatant face of injustice in the space of Marikana. From the widows re-living the memories of not knowing where their husbands were in the days following the massacre, to witnessing the immense hunger and desperation of the community during the strike in 2014. The political and economic ‘to-and-fro-ing’ in the media, between the unions and employers, was peppered with facts and statistics of lost revenue but didn’t represent or give justice to the humans affected. Only when you see a child not being able to go to school due to hunger, does the desperation of the situation hit home.
How have you learnt from this experience?
Tessa: We spent many mornings filming at Thumeka’s home, a leader in Sikhala Sonke. She is an incredible woman. Filming her interactions with her family, preparing breakfast & getting her granddaughter ready for school, you really see the beauty of the everyday moments. She lives in a 5×3 square meter home with her daughter and granddaughter and faces everyday difficulties to get enough food and water for her family but is also doing speeches for Sikhala Sonke at universities, running meetings with support groups and doing interviews with the press, fighting for better living conditions for her community. It teaches you the power of human will and that the heights people can reach are not limited by their circumstances.
Aliki: This experience has changed my life. What I have learned from these women is that if you have a passion for making a difference and empowering your community you can do anything, no matter what your personal circumstances are. You can work your way up, into parliament, become educated and speak to Geneva over a Skype conference call without a matric certificate, and feed 500 people twice daily with no budget.
What memory stands out from the film making process?
T: We filmed Gift of the Givers coming to give packets of food to the people of Marikana during the strike. People waited in queues from 6am to 6pm, stood all day in the hot sun on a field next to the koppie where the massacre took place. There were so many people that at the end of the day not everyone was able to get food. It was heartbreaking to see people so desperate and after waiting 12hrs going home empty handed. It really made you realise how great their need is.
A: The memory of Seipati Mmeka who opened up a soup kitchen in Marikana during the strike, funded by her husband’s pension money, is one that touched my heart deeply. One day when leaving her house she saw a lady had fallen in the street due to not having eaten for three days. This is when she knew her calling rested in feeding the community of Marikana, which she did so throughout the strike sometimes feeding 500 people twice daily. When I asked Seipati what she will do when the strike is over she said that she will continue with the soup kitchen, as some community members are still unemployed. She will continue feeding the people until her money runs out. I don’t think you find many people like that in this world. However, a few months after the strike her soup kitchen had to close. We are trying to raise awareness to reopen her soup kitchen – if anyone would like to get involved please contact me at email@example.com.
Have your perspectives surrounding the Marikana debate changed since making the documentary? – And if so, how?
Tessa: It is one thing to hear or read that poor living conditions lead to the strikes, but by making the film we wanted viewers to see and feel what the every day difficulties are for the women in our film. It makes you understand why they are fighting so hard and willing to risk so much for a better wage, and makes the events on 16 August 2012 all the more devastating.
Aliki: My perspectives on the debate haven’t changed. If anything, and after having spent so much time with these women, my opinion that the killing of so many mineworkers by the South African Police has become more and more unacceptable in a democratic space. I hope after two years some justice will be served and the women will get the closure they so desperately need.
Are there any plans for follow ups? How will this story live on, beyond the film?
Tessa: We’re aiming to create a full length feature film that we hope will travel through festivals and reach as wide an audience as possible.
Aliki: The crew and I have started a Thundafund campaign in order to kick start developing the film from my Masters’ thesis into a full-length feature film next year. It will include more of the story and go beyond 16th August 2014, following up on the women after the Commission has handed over its final report. If anyone would like to contribute in making the women of Marikana’s voices heard please visit our crowd-funding site at www.thundafund.com/mamamarikana.
Director/Producer: Aliki Saragas
Director of Photography: Andreas Georghiou
Sound Recordist: Ying-Poi De Lacy
Co-Producer: Tessa Scott