Tales of truth from the women of Marikana

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Thumeka Magwangqana facing Lonmin in Marikana

The Marikana aftermath gave birth to numerous narratives that seek to capture the events which took place on 16 August 2012, resulting in the deaths of 34 striking mineworkers. The scarred community still cries until this day as those who are left behind, including women and children, continue to voice their concerns as seen in the documentary, Strike a Rock.

Strike a Rock filmmaker and feminist, Aliki Saragas was moved by the plight of these women and their sheer determination to tell the world their version of events through their own pain, struggles and unwavering search for justice. “I have always been inspired by the intersection of ‘reality’, gender and cinema, and making the mundane extraordinary and the personal political,” said Saragas.

The Waverly-based storyteller found her roots in the film industry as a BA Dramatic Arts Honours student at the University of Witwatersrand when she and other film students from Finland, Ghana and South Africa participated in the North South Exchange programme and created several documentaries – it is here that Saragas’ love for the documentary genre was born.

She later decided to do her Masters in Documentary Arts at the University of Cape Town, which resulted in her first account on the Marikana saga titled Mama Marikana. This later became the basis of her current work and first documentary film, Strike a Rock.

“The film has been a three year journey, as it started as my MA thesis film in 2014. During my MA I interned for acclaimed documentary director Simon Wood. He shared with me an article by Camalita Naicker that described this women’s group in Marikana, Sikhala Sonke and how they had developed a play during the first year commemoration of the massacre, to tell their version of the event; a narrative that was either not known or/and had been forgotten.”

Saragas went to meet these women and as a filmmaker she wanted to add to their discourse. Initially she was just interested in capturing the play by the women’s group, however after meeting with them, she found out that there was more depth to their stories and it was up to her to unearth and expand on what the women portrayed.

“I made a very clear choice that I wanted to create a very intimate film that highlighted and focused on telling the story through their voices from the inside, rather than through external voices that have already shaped the discourse of the space,” she said.

As Saragas began to spend more time with the women and their families, she noticed that the film ended up growing and expanding as the political landscape of Marikana (and the country) kept changing and as a result the lives of the women she was filming were also evolving.

‘We want houses, we want electricity, we want running water, a living wage, a government that listens to us’ – These are some of the chants of the women in the film, leading these striking voices are Primrose Sonti and Thumeka Magwangqana. These ladies are the stalwarts of their community in Nkaneng, an informal settlement that sprung up around the mine operated by Lonmin Plc.

“These two inspiring women formed a women’s organisation, Sikhala Sonke (We Cry Together), after their friend Paulina Masuhlo was killed by police. Over time we see them grow into different leaders in the search for social and economic justice,” explains Saragas.

The film was shot over three years with a variety of cameras being used. Saragas confirms that the film was however predominantly shot using a Canon 5D. “(This camera was) not an easy choice for documentary, due to the shallow depth of field, but I made the choice that I wanted that style in the film. It was the most cost effective way to capture that texture, intimacy and closeness that I wanted.”

With this being her first documentary, Saragas pays tribute to having an amazing team that supported and helped her through the journey. The film’s funders and supporters which include the National Film and Video Foundation, the Bertha Foundation, IDFA Bertha Fund, Afridocs, Good Pitch and Women Make Movies gave her the right support and necessary funding to make the film possible.

Saragas’ producers on Strike a Rock are Dr Liani Maasdorp and Anita Khanna of Uhuru Productions. Coincidentally, Uhuru Productions is known for its award-winning documentary, Miners Shot Down, which follows the tragic Marikana events from the commencement of the strike up until the miners were fatally wounded.

Saragas affirms that the story of the Marikana massacre has been widely publicised and reviewed globally, however she believes that there are still voices that have not yet been heard, “voices from the strong women leaders and the community that surrounds the mine which had seemingly been erased from the narrative.”

Saragas says as a filmmaker, she intends on elevating these narratives, and this has led to the founding of her own production company, Elafos Productions.

“I started Elafos in 2015 as I began to make my film into a feature length documentary…I wanted to create a production company that focuses on women’s stories. Recognising the need to emphasise complex and strong roles for women in the South African industry, as I grow the company, I want Elafos to champion these narratives in front and behind the lens,” she asserted.

Strike a Rock made its world premiere as the opening film of the 19th Encounters South African International Documentary Film Festival which will runs from 1 to 11 June 2017. This year the festival will showcase 70 films, with 32 of these shortlisted stories coming from South Africa.

”I’m so excited that the world premiere of Strike a Rock will be on home soil at Encounters Film Festival, a festival that I have attended for years and years. It was very important to all of us to premier in South Africa, and to be featured as the opening night film to launch the festival will provide us with the platform to spotlight the injustice the women continue fighting against.”

After the Encounters festival, the film will be making its international debut in Britain at the Sheffield International Documentary Film Festival where it has been selected in the Documentary/Expose strand.

Apart from the limelight that the film is hoping to attain through these festivals, Saragas also plans to run a local campaign that will see the film being aired in schools and mining communities. “In partnership with Sikhala Sonke, we will facilitate community screenings using a mobile cinema with workshops detailing communities’ rights and possible recourse. Starting from Marikana, we aim to reach mining communities across all major mining areas in South Africa.”

Saragas is a filmmaker and an activist at heart, shining a spotlight on the antagonist while also seeking visible solutions to her protagonist’s problem. “This is a very current story that highlights how there has been no accountability for the significant legal obligations owed to the community surrounding the mine. It was very important for me to show these incredible female leaders exercising their agency in the face of great injustice, not only for the massacre itself but for everything that preceded and followed it. They force us to recognise that the story of Marikana is not yet over,” she concludes.

Key Crew:

Director: Aliki Saragas
Producer: Dr. Liani Maasdorp
Producer: Anita Khanna
Offline Editor: Khalid Shamis –
Online and Grade: Yoav Dagan (TiNt Post Production)
Sound Design: Guy Sheer (Rechord Post)

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Gezzy S Sibisi
Gezzy S. Sibisi is a senior journalist at Screen Africa. She is experienced in print, broadcast and digital media. Her portfolio of work includes working as a lifestyle reporter as well as contributing business and education articles to The Times, Sowetan, and Daily Dispatch publications. As a freelancer, she has worked on content development for corporate newsletters, community newspapers, blogs and educational websites.

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