The light is fading from the evening sky above the football pitch near Impala platinum shaft 6, a few miles outside Rustenburg in South Africa.
Groups of miners are gathering to watch an outdoor showing of the wonderful film Miners Shot Down. It tells the story of the massacre of 34 of their comrades which took place at Marikana some 20 miles away in August 2012.
The miners come to the field from the company-owned workers’ housing or the shacks.
The Impala platinum mine has 19,000 workers—but none of its 20 shafts are working now.
They are part of the biggest mining strike in South African history, one that involves 80,000 workers and has gone on for over 100 day. The platinum belt is the place of class war, a bitter struggle whose outcome will have huge implications for South Africa's workers.
The organisers of the film put up their screen and snake out a 50 metre cable to a power source. Recently at another outdoor screening they tried to use a generator and it exploded the projector.
Tonight it has to go well. This is a showing for some of the film’s most important audience.
The images on the screen are reflected in the reality around us: the parched and scrubby landscape, the pit head workings with red lights on their tops twinkling in the dusk, and the workers who risk their lives to produce the precious metal whose sale fattens the multinationals and their bosses.
Now it’s dark and the screening can begin—the projector and sound are working perfectly, to everyone’s relief. Some 1,200 miners have gathered, some in the football field’s metal stand, most on the grass.
“I am waiting for this, I want to see the truth about Marikana,” says Bongani. His phone is primed to record the whole film “so I can show it to my comrades at other shafts”.
The film’s early images of the Marikana massacre are heard in deep, respectful silence. Less than two years ago, men whose harsh lives are shared by this audience were cut down by a brutal state.
This isn’t an alien story. It’s what happened to people like them over the hills on the near horizon.
But as the film goes on there are mutterings and shouts as the audience hears the evidence of collusion in murder of the miners by the state and the bosses.
This is the first major showing where the soundtrack has been dubbed into Xhosa, the first language for most of these workers. And they pick up every nuance.
They are shocked and angry when they hear that the police had readied mortuary vehicles in advance of the shootings. They call out as they hear the self-serving lies of police at the official inquiry that has followed Marikana.
They are appalled at the emails which demonstrate the lethal cooperation between the police, the African National Congress (ANC) government and the mine bosses.
As the film’s images light the grass around us, Khola, one of a group of women at the film whispers to me, “See Cyril Ramaphosa? He led striking miners in the past.
“Now he is part of the bosses and the government and wants striking miners dealt with in a bad way.”
It is totally dark as the film ends. The audience has gone in a minute. These are workers used to waking up early and to living in places where electric light is uncertain or non-existent—and places which can be dangerous after dark. As the strike hardens, intimidation by the bosses and their allies is turning more violent.
“The film is sad but it makes me angry as well,” says Jackson. “Thank you to those who made it. Thank you for letting everyone know who is responsible for Marikana.”
And Thobisile says, “We will remember those who died for ever. But now we must win our strike to carry on the battle where they fell.
“We must win. We are hungry because we have no money. My wife and four children and five other family members who depend on me are crying. I had to leave them 600 miles away to work here. It is very hard, but we must win.”
The platinum miners’ strike for a minimum wage of 12,500 rand (£750) a month is much more than a pay dispute. It is a statement about equality and social justice and what sort of South Africa people will live in.
Will it be one where, 20 years after the end of apartheid, vast gaps in wealth and power are accepted as inevitable? Or will it see workers and all the poor and oppressed begin to build a different sort of world?
Those who watched this film are determined to carry on their battle despite the hardship. Their victory would be a victory for us all.
Donate to the platinum miners’ strike fund
Bank: Standard Bank—Witbank Business
Account Name: AMCU Association of Mineworkers and Construction Strike Fund
Account Number: 332 748 634
Branch Code: 052 750
SWIFT (Sort Code): SBZAZAJJ
Please email deposit slips or EFT transfers, indicating which person or group made deposit, to [email protected]