The Marikana massacre and the contradictions of South Africa's "nonracial" capitalism

The massacre at the Lonmin platinum mine in Marikana on August 16, 2012, was a watershed moment in South African history. Thirty-four workers were gunned down and many more injured in a brutal assault by the South African Police (SAP). Just days earlier, 3,000 rock-drill operators had waged a wildcat strike for higher wages, over the opposition of the leadership of the National Union of Mineworkers (NUM) who urged “patience” despite the desperate poverty of their members. This wildcat action was first met by violence from both company security forces and the NUM, before the SAP murdered the strikers. For their part, the strikers were affiliated to a breakaway union, the more militant Association of Mineworkers and Construction Union (AMCU), led by Joseph Mathunjwa.1

Twenty years after the overthrow of apartheid, the massacre encapsulates many of the key contradictions of the so-called “nonracial” neoliberal order ushered in by Nelson Mandela and the African National Congress (ANC): The blatant and growing inequality where a new Black ruling class is driving accumulation through its Black Economic Empowerment (BEE) initiatives; the long-standing complicity of the ANC-aligned union federation, COSATU, and the South African Communist Party (SACP) in pushing this neoliberal agenda; and the leveraging, by international capital and its front-men of the new BEE elite, of the vast powers of the state, in ensuring that the fruits of neoliberalism remain in the hands of a tiny (now multiracial) minority. All of this was expressed, on a world stage, in Marikana.

 A boom in the price of commodities, including raw materials like platinum, since the end of the global recession of 2008, has made huge profits for companies in extractive industries. The struggle in Marikana is part of a South African strike wave in the mines owned by Lonmin, Impala, Amplats, and others. In fact, the massacre at Lonmin led to a successful strike at the platinum mines in 2014, which in turn ushered in major wage increases and a further estrangement of the workers movement from the ANC alliance. Yet with the recent collapse in global commodities prices, the specter of mass layoffs haunts South Africa just as it does the rest of the BRICS2 (Anglo American alone intends to lay off 85,000 workers worldwide, many of them in South Africa. Platinum prices are at their lowest since the 2008 global recession, down by over 50 percent.) All of this underscores the centrality of these struggles in offering lessons for the class struggle across all of the BRICS. 

But there is a specific South African historical resonance to this conjuncture that gave rise to the Marikana tragedy. The return of mass workers struggles like those in the mining sectors, together with the burgeoning student movement in which fee strikes, often framed as a struggle against the colonial settler legacy of South Africa, have recently won key victories.3 These harken back to the heights of the anti-apartheid movements of the late 1980s and early 1990s. As much as the ANC and its allies would like to claim ownership of the legacy of that history, it grew and developed—in important ways—independent of the ANC and SACP in exile. And its return—after more than two decades of disillusionment with the new, nonracial neoliberal order, cannot be a surprise to any who truly appreciate the decades of struggle and long-standing aspirations of the country’s Black working class.

International solidarity with the burgeoning class struggle in South Africa will be all the more critical in the face of a widening global economic crisis. Activists now have a vital tool for the struggles ahead: the award-winning film Miners Shot Down (2014) directed by Rehad Desai.4 The film—a depiction of the events leading up to the Marikana massacre and its aftermath—powerfully captures the contradictions of capitalism in South Africa today in all of its brutality. In getting access to unprecedented material, the filmmakers expose the violence of the South African state and its irredeemable complicity with the new nonracial, post-apartheid capitalist order. At the same time, the film provides substantial footage of the strike’s leaders, participants, and supporters, the human faces of not only the victims of murder—captured on film—but also active fighters in the working-class struggle that overthrew apartheid twenty years earlier and continues to this day.

In November 2015, Miners Shot Down was awarded an International Emmy for Best Documentary. In the lead up to the award ceremony, Desai along with Jim Nichol, attorney for the miners and their families, toured the United States with the film to build support for the campaign. Desai is also the director of three other documentaries, God is Rain (2012), Bhambatha: War of the Heads (2008), and Born Into Struggle (2004). Jim Nichol is a criminal defense lawyer based in London who specializes in cases involving the miscarriage of justice; these have included the Bridgewater Four case, the UK miners’ strike of 1984–85, and the Northern Ireland Bloody Sunday inquiry. We spoke to them after a screening in New York City in October 2015.

Aaron Amaral and Lee Wengraf

Perhaps we can start with a timeline: The event itself, the filmmaking process, the subsequent investigation (known as the Farlam Commission), and where things are now. 


Rehad Desai: A few days before the massacre, I was in Marikana looking into Black Economic Empowerment (“BEE”) projects in the region, and I was just shocked—it was like a dystopia. All the guns and the army and the quality of the housing, it’s just shocking to see.

So I wasn’t actually there on the day of the massacre. But in the lead up I met a few of the strikers and felt duty-bound to get involved. Very quickly, we set up the support campaign and started raising money, two weeks after the commission started.5 The big argument that arose was whether we were going to participate or assist or boycott this commission and try to set up our own, [i.e.,] a civil society inquiry. And the arguments made by some of the lawyers like George Bizos—who was Nelson Mandela’s lawyer—were, well, the commission has the power of subpoena, powers of civil society, powers that I will never have.

Were there people in the social movement who wanted to set up a people’s tribunal of some sort?

Rehad: Yeah, that was the dominant view. You’ve got to realize who you’re stacked up against. A few public interest NGOs, social movements, some of the workers and community members from Marikana, were up against the National Union of Mineworkers (NUM), the African National Congress, the Communist Party (SACP), and the trade union federation (COSATU). 

Jim Nichol: You’ve got to ask yourself, why a commission? The commission is a mechanism for preventing the prosecution of police officers and exposing the state. We have to be crystal clear about that. When you look at the film, it’s not rocket science to see that this is a huge murder scene, and that people should be arrested immediately and charged. If you were then to divert the whole thing into the commission—which is what they did—the first thing that happened was that the police inquiry stopped. It just stopped. Nobody is now being investigated for murder. The commission didn’t investigate anybody.

Rehad: And nobody was willing to talk while the commission inquiry was on.

Jim: So now we’re three years on, and those people who pulled the trigger, and those people who ordered the triggers to be pulled, the commission now suggests perhaps the police ought to inquire into it. But nothing is going to happen. I’m not saying there might not be an odd police officer prosecuted. So the idea of a commission, people think we’re really going to expose what goes on here. On the contrary, it’s a complete whitewash.

Despite the relatively high-profile lawyers on the side of the families?

Rehad: Oh, we got [the family members] involved, through the existing connections with the new Association of Mineworkers and Construction Workers Union (AMCU). Jim interviewed these people, he was able to get the families represented. But what makes this massacre different from any massacres that preceded it in South Africa was the contestation from the very beginning inside the commission on the narrative. As Jim said, these commissions are set up to deflect blame away from the state when the state is clearly found to have used excessive force against its people.

Because the campaign was very tied in with the community, the strikers, and AMCU, that really in many ways determined the narrative. But there was a tremendous amount of confusion given the weight of propaganda. In South Africa, a small minority of people, maybe 10–15 percent, saw the TV footage and were appalled and angered. But somehow, the majority, I think, particularly in the early days, thought the strikers must have done something wrong.

Jim, you did an interview with Amandla! magazine where you compare the silence surrounding this commission to other inquiries you’ve seen, like Northern Ireland, saying the silence in this case was much deeper.6 Can both of you speak about the stakes for the South African state in this particular case?

Jim: The stakes really go up, extraordinarily high, because it must have been clear to them that everything pointed to the government and its involvement. They knew because they were involved, but we could see this also because of all the traffic in telephone calls, emails, and the traffic in letters, orchestrated by Cyril Ramaphosa.7 Sometimes I say to myself, can this really be true? Like when a Lonmin executive wrote, “Bring to bear the might of the state.” So they knew that they had to divert attention away from themselves, and nothing better than a commission! What I find astonishing is that there was no contemporaneous document placed before the commission that came from any person in the government. So we are meant to believe that no one made even a note over the few days of the incident. So when we talk about having a new commission, we know that these materials exist in great abundance.

In the UK and US the integration of, and complicity within, the ruling class between the state, including its armed wings, and the media, goes back decades and generations, whereas in South Africa it’s a relatively new process, post-apartheid. Were there ways in which this dynamic was advantageous either to the filmmaking or to the process of investigation?

Rehad: A tremendous amount of substantive evidence points towards the mutual complicity and coordination between Lonmin, the state, the SAP, and the media. They weren’t able to find the smoking gun, there was nothing conclusive. But in a more mature democracy, they would have made sure that at least those cameras, which captured the massacre, were taken out of the situation. There would have been security cordons. The arrogance of power and the lack of understanding of how this could damage it is incredible. I remember seeing the head of the NUM on TV calling for more and more paramilitary units to get there, claiming, “These strikers are hell-bent on anarchy and destruction, and we want boots on the ground.” It wasn’t really hidden. That’s their public face, but what are they saying to one another? We know that they’re all speaking to one another, the NUM speaking to Cyril Ramaphosa, Ramaphosa speaking to the police minister. It’s the nexus of complicity.

Jim: It comes down to the police. Let me give you two examples of what happens with the police in terms of the disclosure that we get. So we get a bit of video footage that shows one of the miners calling for the killing of a police officer. Nobody takes him seriously. The next speaker appears to be Mathunjwa, who says, “We must respect what the comrade has said and agree with him.” This is then used by their lawyers at the commission to show how Mathunjwa is endorsing the killing of police officers. But when we get hold of the stuff and do an analysis of the video footage, we see that the footage of Mathunjwa is actually from forty-two minutes before anybody else had spoken, before the alleged incitement. This is straight Joe Stalin erasing Trotsky out of the picture—right? That is just one example. 

Another example is a very senior police officer who was in one of the armored trucks gives a statement saying that just before the killings the miners attacked his armored truck, and he had two bullet holes in the truck as proof. Six police officers inside that truck also gave supporting statements on the attack. The only problem is that we have video where we see the same truck two days before, the same number on this armored truck, the same registration number, on the plate… already with two bullet holes. It’s a complete lie! There’s loads of stuff like this! But this is the way in which the commission operates.

What was striking is that some of the language accusing the protesters and their supporters of being “anarchists” and “criminals and opportunists” mirror what you read on how the ANC in exile handled internal dissent, some of the ways in which the SACP historically talks about its opposition from the Left. Do you think there’s something to that?

Rehad: Absolutely. For example, Jim himself, a legal advisor to Mathunjwa, raises the specter of foreign nationals.

Jim: They put my picture on television: “White foreign national seeking to undermine the economy.” I mean the level to which these people go is extraordinary!

Rehad: People inside the DLF8 working in the united front are accused of “planning the armed overthrow of the government,” according to “internal intelligence reports” that have come to light.

What is the status of the criminal charges that were brought against the miners themselves?

Rehad: We were upfront when we were contesting the state’s version of events, i.e., that we have people who are locked up now who knew that something was very deeply wrong with what had happened. And, some of these people were inside of the ANC and inside the state. We were able to get the victims represented at the commission and, consistent with best international practice, to see that families of these mineworkers were able to see justice being done. There’s a restorative aspect of the injustice movement supposedly underway because by the last three weeks, the Marikana support campaign, said, that’s it! It’s no longer about money. The widows must go to the commission, the family members must go. We quickly moved on this. 

So then we had a nine-month campaign to get legal aid for the injured and the arrested, and those guys were working for nothing for nine months because the state was not willing to provide any assistance.

Not even public defenders?

Jim: Well there are public defenders, but they wouldn’t even give it to the people who had been shot!

Rehad: You’ve got to remember, there’s over one hundred people who were shot and injured, and then another two hundred who were arrested, so they were representing three hundred people in the commission. Once the film was released, just over a year after the massacre, we showed the rough-cut versions at the special national congress of NUMSA,9 and it shifted the delegates. They gave hundreds of thousands of rand for the widows.

And it started to shift the narrative inside the media. Once we were able to make sense of these fragments of information and put it in a clear sort of story, our plan became clear. The national prosecution authority said that as soon as this commission was finished, it would be determined if these prosecutions against the miners would continue to stay on the books. Even though the commission had shown that there was no evidence that these mineworkers were attacking anybody, and that the commission refused to pursue the charges.

Jim: Some of the mineworkers still have charges pending, they allegedly have separate evidence against them, from a “Mr. X,” a police informer who is utterly discredited. This man is lying! There is no weight upon his evidence there. Now, I’ll tell you as a lawyer that this is going nowhere, but they arrested them and they’re charged with attempted murder. I’d be absolutely frightened. And this goes on for eighteen months, they’re in prison for a while before they get bail, and then they have to report to the police station. And after a year and a half, we eventually go to court, and the prosecutor eventually stands up and says, “I’ve had an opportunity on reviewing the procedures for identification, and I’m not satisfied it was carried out properly, so I’m offering no evidence.”

This is what the state does to strikers, to protesters, to the movement. Nobody is tried, nobody is convicted at the end of the day. But it kills the protests stone dead. So this is a method that they use. The fact that it gets out in public, they don’t seem to care because shortly after the killing of the Marikana people, they killed three poor agricultural workers on strike in the Western Cape, within two months of Marikana. The state is into violence in quite a big way.

So what’s the current status of the Marikana support campaign? What’s the next step?

Rehad: There’s this civil complaint taking place now. We had a push to see if we could get the state to settle these claims without going to court, because they will go on for years, there’s hundreds and hundreds of these claims. And it seemed for a while that the state was going to do that, but they’ve withdrawn their offer. We’re not sure why. We’re going to have to stand with the families over the next few years. Of course the thrust of our campaign is for justice, which is to push for the prosecutions, to continue to put forward some of the evidence that didn’t come before the commission or didn’t get the attention it deserved while the commission was going on.

Jim: Julius Malema of the Economic Freedom Fighters (EFF), within a few days of the commission reporting, goes up to the Marikana police station and declares charges of murder against various police officers and Ramaphosa. Now I don’t know where that goes, but tactically it got a lot of publicity. And I think the EFF are just about to lay civil charges against Ramaphosa for murder and the minister of police, along with the criminal claims for murder against Ramaphosa.

The likelihood of them getting through the national prosecuting authority, the way it’s been hobbled and weakened, is not good. But that’s what’s been happening for some years, to protect so-called Black industrialists, Black tycoons, who’ve been economically empowered through their links to the state and have gotten their hands dirty. A lot of these deals become corrupted, South African President Jacob Zuma included. Criminal charges would be inconvenient, in standing in the way of the accumulation of capital of this class.

What is the importance to the state of the extractive industry, especially the value of the platinum industry, and how much does that aspect factor into the Marikana situation?

Jim: Whenever there’s a strike, we see the government’s support of the employers against the strikers. That’s a sort of given really. Here was an international company that was at the back end of a recession, and it wasn’t doing very well. It had done well until 2008, and it kept all the money and sent a lot of it overseas. They were desperate not to settle the strike, absolutely desperate. And they knew that a previous miner’s strike at Impala Platinum in Rustenburg earlier that year had been successful after nine weeks of struggle despite people being killed. So the question facing the company was how they could win the dispute. So they had a real reason for wanting to break the miners.

Then you have the government itself. It already knew Impala had won their strike. It was terrified that throughout South Africa people would be demanding these extraordinary wage increases. Secondly, what would the extraordinary wage increases and the strikes do to international investor confidence in the extractive industries in particular? Then you have the third element, which was the National Union of Mineworkers, the biggest single union that had supported the ANC, through thick and thin, that was now losing membership in the platinum industry, like there was no tomorrow, to the new union on the block, AMCU. So when all three of those factors come together like that, the strength of what that they wanted makes a fist, which is much stronger than fingers. So there was a lot at stake for all of them. So that’s why they went for it.

The people that get away with murder, by the way, are Lonmin. One day they may prosecute some middle-ranking policeman for something, but as for Lonmin? They have gotten away with murder. The tragic events of Marikana would not have occurred had it not been for the intransigence of Lonmin in protecting its profits and financial stability against the interest of poor miners and refusing to negotiate with them. They took this stance knowing that guns would be used by police officers in order to quell the strike and to arrest strikers.

Rehad: And who was the face of that? Cyril Ramaphosa! It’s the attempt to legitimize a very rapacious capitalist system which is characterized by racial hierarchy in the labor force, and the ownership seeks to “deracialize.” Supposedly you do it through the Black Economic Empowerment policy. But it is very clear after a while that ordinary people can say, “He is doing well, it’s my turn next.” But when your turn doesn’t come, people start getting very impatient. That is what started happening around the end of 2010, 2011, with the rise of unofficial strikes and the real pressure of wages because of rising unemployment and food inflation. And I think even now the richest people in the country are getting worried about the credibility of the African National Congress given the rampant levels of corruption and the fact that there are a handful of Black people who are super rich. For instance, in 2007, 72 percent of the three hundred Black empowerment deals that were concluded—worth tens of billions of rand—were in the hands of four people, four Black people, the so-called Fab Four: Ramaphosa, Tokyo Sexwale,10 Saki Macozoma,11 and Patrice Motsepe.12 These people are rentiers, completely unproductive. Due to their political connections, they got their hands on discounted shares, held on to them for a year or two, and then began selling them off for a massive profit.

Today there is a lot of anxiety because of the volatility of the commodities market. These corporations are pretty shaken up right now.

Rehad: This is one of the most interesting things. Malema13 called for nationalization in 2010, 2011. He’s got some closeness to Tokyo Sexwale. Some claim his call for nationalization is to bail out Black financial leaders who got into trouble because of the downward spiral of commodities prices. But because the dividends would be a lot less than what they’re paying now, nationalization would serve their interests. It’s a bailout for the tycoons. This is part of the problem. That is why NUMSA and SACP have refused to support the demands for nationalization. The question we must ask is: if you nationalize, who will actually take control?

Jim: If you go to a place like Lonmin or Impala, they have twenty or thirty thousand workers and the company says, “We are going to retrench, we need redundancy. We are going to close this current shaft with 20,000, 30,000 workers in it.” We should be saying, “No, you don’t. We nationalize all the shafts. They don’t get to choose the shafts to close.”

I am for nationalization. Without a shadow of a doubt, I am for nationalization. But to win people to it, you have to be clear on what nationalization means, from our perspective. Now of course, we’d like to say nationalization means workers controlling power in the workplace, at the point of production, as part of a revolutionary process. We are for democratic control. We say we are for the seven-hour day. We also say that no miner can work in the mine for more than twenty years of their life because after that you probably have acquired serious health problems. We say that you can only work three weeks in four. We call for health care. We say that you get retraining after your twenty-year stint.

Rehad: Most importantly, the call for nationalization has to be without compensation for the mine owners. There will be a fight over that. The big challenge will be to bring the big battalions to fight tooth and nail. It poses the argument for workers control but it begins to gain some traction because you need mass struggle.

And what of Joseph Mathunjwa, the head of the new union, AMCU? What does he say?

Jim: He will not take on the issue of nationalization.

Rehad: It’s very important he didn’t sign this latest deal. The government, NUM, and the industry said, “Let’s commit to dialogue and working together to save the mining industries,” and then tens of thousands of retrenchments [firings] come. And the bosses turn around and say, “Well, the NUM signed a deal.” NUM may claim to have never discussed retrenchments. But they had signed a memorandum of understanding. 

Jim: For the miners themselves the AMCU is a union that fights, even though it puts down the Left at times. But what’s also important is that there is now a substantial union of probably 160,000 or 170,000 miners, out of 500,000 miners working in total in the country. And AMCU is the majority of miners in platinum—that’s important to understand. This is a union that is a beacon to South African workers, blue-collar, white-collar workers, they both look to it. Mathunjwa claims to be apolitical, which drives me to distraction, but there is a strength to that approach because people will say, “He isn’t part of the old order, he refuses to be a part of the old order.” I fear that he will be assassinated, as others have been. He drives his own car to try and prevent that.

But the important point is that AMCU is a beacon. Then you take the Marikana events, it propelled the split in COSATU to the left by NUMSA. Life is never going to be the same again in South Africa, never going to be the same again.

Rehad: It is quite formidable.

One of the critiques within the international left is of a kind of authoritarian strand within the Economic Freedom Fighters, in particular within the leadership. Can you comment on that?

Rehad: EFF is, firstly, a product of the crisis, a political and social crisis that is facing South Africa. The inability of the ANC to solve the national question or to tackle it or confront it in any meaningful manner is what leads Malema, primarily on his own, to raise the nationalization call and to call out Zuma on his crony capitalism and his family links with mining and so on. But the Black empowerment types hammer Malema and he gets pushed out of the ANC Youth League, expelled. Now there was a period—the carnivalesque period post-apartheid—where you get these Black tycoons saying, “What’s wrong with being stinking rich?” People were coming out of government and going into big corporations and earning obscene amounts of money. Malema was part of that. There are people like that inside the ANC. At the moment people will say they only go for Malema because he is no longer in the ANC, that he is speaking truth to power.

You could argue there is a cult of personality being built around Malema, but if you look around the world—a media world, just to say—this is everywhere. Malema ruled the ANC Youth League with an iron fist. Now he is quite apologetic about that, quite open about that, saying that it was wrong, that the EFF is not the ANC Youth League, but obviously he brings with it some of those tendencies, that sort of centralist mindset. Supposedly it’s democratic centralism, but it is often centralism without the democracy.

One can have problems with his leadership style, but I think the key thing is he’s now giving clear expression to a generational revolt and hundreds of thousands of young people who are looking to him and joining his organization and are militant-minded because of his strength of personality. He is a fantastic speaker, he is one of the most able politicians on the South African political landscape, and he has articulated the people’s needs and frustrations. People have gravitated to him. 

Jim: What matters for us is how you engage with them. It’s the same issue that confronts how we as socialists engage with the people who might be around Bernie Sanders, or Corbyn in the UK. Where people who are left of center are radicalizing and young people are moving towards them, our main focus has got to be: How do we engage with these people? For example, the question of nationalization is one issue, but the whole question of housing and jobs is really important. That’s where we are, the interest and openness of people to socialist ideas is really important for us.

How much has Marikana and the rising combativeness within the workers’ movement between 2012 and 2014 contributed to the general radicalization? How did the Marikana workers and the movement building of the family members impact the campaign and workers’ struggles overall? And also the organizing against police brutality in South Africa. In the US this is of course a major issue with the rise of the Black Lives Matter movement.

Jim: The confidence of the families! I can tell you, they are wonderful to watch. They came from these villages which are round huts with straw tops and they hardly ever leave the village. They came to the commission and they were isolated, depressed, and they cried. But then you look at what happened over this period and they changed, they became stronger people, and they took the jobs of their husbands and the like. And they do great campaigning. Of course there are limits on the campaign in a sense. If we could tour them internationally, if we had funds, these family members would be there. They speak really well. The whole thing is changing.

I’ll tell you one story, something that happened to me. I am also the lawyer for AMCU, as well as for the families. So the miners know me, from being a socialist and being around for many years like I’ve been. The idea of suddenly getting to be seventy years of age and addressing mass meetings, where the smallest mass meeting is 5,000 and the largest mass meeting is 35,000…at my age, it is staggering stuff. I speak at these types of things, sometimes with Mathunjwa, as a kind of warmup act before he comes on, and he is a class act, I tell you. So at one of these events, I’m thinking, “What am I going to say?” And so I decide to say that Marikana is known the world over, the injustice about Black miners shot down. And that it’s not just in South Africa; that it’s on the streets of Ferguson, Black people are being shot down by police officers. In Baltimore and Cleveland and in London, Black people shot down. So I say to the rally, “Things are changing because on the streets of Baltimore and other towns, Black people are rising up and saying, ‘Black Lives Matter.’ I repeated it, ‘Black Lives Matter,’” and 20,000 people started shouting, “Black Lives Matter!” It was amazing, people making connections to Black Lives Matter. Connections are being made.

Rehad: Of the widows and the family members, and the injured and arrested, it’s been critical that they remain in the forefront. What we have been doing for the last three years has been acting on their mandate, and trying not to make any big move without them. Now there’s a campaign organizing independently of the Marikana support campaign to get the film screened on TV. And the widows turned up in numbers, to big public venues. That has been very important. In fact, their growing confidence and willingness to tell their stories has absolutely been a critical part of rooting and grounding the campaign and providing the human face to this massacre. Jim has been essential to this, making sure they were represented at the Commission.

What has been the international reception to the film?

Rehad: The film has been likened to Salt of the Earth and Harlan County USA, and there have been only a handful of documentaries that have been able to do that. Now, why has Miners Shot Down gotten traction, gotten the attention it has? I think that for many people, the inequality in South Africa sits uncomfortably. It’s not just the varying degrees of poverty or whatever. It is highly unequal and people see it every day. They see the huge wealth. Forty-five percent of the population, the working population, are living on the poverty line, are working poor, earning under $300 a month. You have two people owning as much as the poorest 50 percent of the population. Working-class people aren’t stupid. This is a general phenomenon. It is happening everywhere. We are seeing rising mass unemployment in large parts of Europe, and a rising opposition. It is clear for many people. The rising inequality is due to the rising power of the corporations, the hold of the corporations over our lives. 

And so the film is a bit of a hit, a zeitgeist in that. You get lucky when your film resonates with a zeitgeist, so to speak. I think that is what the film has managed to do, but it’s because people know, they know this story. They know this story of a working-class hero like Cyril Ramaphosa who has turned his back on his people, joined the big corporation, and gotten super rich, and that is what we see in many countries, the way people see it. But we also thought that the days where the state would come together with corporations and politicians and mow people down in a brute arrogant fashion was something we left behind us.

Especially in South Africa.

Rehad: Right, with the struggle for democracy here. Jim tells the story of his first political activity: it was in reaction to the Sharpeville massacre of 1960. After Sharpeville, millions upon millions of people became involved in the anti-apartheid campaign internationally over the years. And so to see what happened at Marikana, this is shocking for people.

People have wanted to do something. People want to stop the rot. They want to use the film in some way to change what is happening in South Africa, but also as a way to start a wider conversation of what is happening in the world.

And what about the reception in Britain, given that Lonmin is a British company? Can you speak to that?

Jim: What you need to know is that when it was first formed at the turn of the twentieth century, Lonmin was the London and Rhodesian Mining and Land Company. Lonmin was once a division of Lonrho PLC, whose former CEO was an executive named Tiny Rowland, who was single-handedly responsible for breaking the boycott of white Rhodesia.

Today, in the UK, we are starting a campaign focused on the Church of England, which has shares in the company. When they had the first shareholders meeting after the commission had finished, I went down with my suit and tie on with letters addressed to each shareholder, letters that I wrote as the attorney for the miners and their families. But of course the annual report for Lonmin PLC of 2014 does not disclose that their directors have been recommended for prosecution for murder by senior attorneys including George Bizos, the attorney to the late Nelson Mandela. And it was wonderful; a number of women came and they brought blown-up photographs, not of the people who died, but blown-up photos of the wives and mothers who had been left behind. Really beautiful stuff. They had a terrific picket outside the Lonmin meeting and were very effective. It was only women doing it. So the campaign against Lonmin continues. 

Rehad: This idea was generated by our film in a way. I think the big breakthrough is that one of the institutional shareholders of Lonmin is the British public service union UNISON, and they made noises at that first shareholders meeting, and we have been able to use the film to generate more noise and heat around the issue. And now another major union, UNITE,14 has taken up the issue. They have passed important resolutions. They are on the campaign websites and the film website, they’ve encouraged union resolutions, and most of those resolutions that have been passed in the UK have often been followed by donations. So it’s become a support campaign. It is slow, grinding work but important work, and it is a long campaign ahead of us.

Transcription by Andrea Hektor and Denise Herrera

  1. Eric Ruder, “Massacre at a South African mine, Socialist Worker,  August 21, 2012,
  2. BRICS is the acronym for an association of five major emerging national economies: Brazil, Russia, India, China, and South Africa. Alan Petroff, “Anglo-American to Shed 85,000 Jobs,” CNN Money, December 8, 2015,
  3. Simon Allison, “South African students score tuition fee protest victory, Guardian, October 23, 2015, at
  4. The film’s Web site is
  5. The Marikana Commission of Inquiry was appointed by South African President Jacob Zuma. Its mandate was to investigate “matters of public, national and international concern arising out of the tragic incidents at the Lonmin Mine in Marikana,”
  6. “Can the Farlam Commission Deliver Justice for the Slain Miners?,” Amandla!, March 9, 2015,
  7. NUM founder, former ANC secretary-general and widely considered the heir apparent to Mandela, now a multi-millionaire with a seat on the board of Lonmin.
  8. The Democratic Left Front was formed as a nonsectarian and nonauthoritarian anticapitalist front in South Africa. It was formed from the Conference for a Democratic Left launched in 2008, at an event held in Johannesburg in January 2011. It has played a notable role in solidarity campaigns, most recently concerning the Marikana massacre.
  9. National Union of Metalworkers of South Africa, a left-wing union formerly aligned with the ANC and the SACP, now independent and the leading force for the creation of a new, independent mass labor/socialist party.
  10. Former ANC political prisoner, provincial premier, and government minister. 
  11. Former ANC political prisoner, member of parliament, and head of one of the largest national para-statals. 
  12. Mining magnate, known as “the Prince of Mines,” listed by Forbes magazine as the 508th richest person in the world. The brother-in-law of a former government minister.
  13. Julius Malema, former head of the ANC Youth League and now leader of the Economic Freedom Fighters (EFF), a left-populist political party. 
  14. A British and Irish trade union, formed on May 1, 2007, by the merger of Amicus and the Transport and General Workers’ Union.

Issue #103

Winter 2016-17

"A sense of hope and the possibility for solidarity"

Interview with Roxanne Dunbar-Ortiz
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