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MINERS SHOT DOWN
DIRECTOR: Rehad Desai
FEATURED: Mambush Mgcineni, Tholakele Dlunga, Mzoxolo Magidiwana
CLASSIFICATION: 13 V
RUNNING TIME: 90 minutes
RATING: 4 stars (out of 5)
METICULOUSLY constructed, Miners Shot Down gives us a narrative lacking from news coverage about striking miners in this country.
It paints a coherent picture of the build-up to the Marikana shooting from the miners’ point of view, giving up-to-now faceless strikers names and dignity.
That’s not to say other voices aren’t entertained, but police, government officials and Lonmin businessmen all fade into the background as they carefully decline interviews or obfuscate answers at the Farlam Commission of Inquiry.
Carefully unpacking the events in the week leading up to the August 2012 massacre, the footage is a mix of talking head interviews after the event, and on-the-ground coverage of mineworkers marching and police and security gathering beforehand. The narrative is structured chronologically, though the interviews do reflect what people also think about the event after the fact.
The documentary weaves together the points of view of three of the strike leaders and also draws on police footage, television archival material and some measured comment from the lawyers who represent the miners in the commission of inquiry.
Even Cyril Ramaphosa puts in an appearance, though he does not say much of anything. He gets a lot of screen time though, as the narrator carefully explains exactly how Ramaphosa is viewed by the miners and how he fits into the bigger picture.
Director Rehad Desai was originally covering the wildcat strike by Lonmin’s rock drill operators, intending to make a film about the inequality facing mining communities in the platinum belt. No one could have predicted that the miners would lose their cool with the National Union of Mineworkers or that the police would shoot the miners. But Desai was there to capture it all.
While a lot of the detail was immediately written about in newspapers or shown on tele-vision, the documentary contextualises the whole event in a way Twitter’s immediacy could never duplicate.
The audience is drawn into the miners’ story, but their account is also situated in the broader context, so the film operates on two levels at the same time – the individual story for empathy, the reality of life in the rainbow nation 20 years on for uncomfortable context.
Some of the footage obtained from the police and security cameras hasn’t been shown in public before and the way the documentary presents the story credibly challenges the self-defence argument put forward by the police.
When the more than 600 police are deployed, the question more often than not seems to be: do we have that many police officers in the country?
Philip Miller’s soundtrack deliberately goes for a haunting soundscape of non-verbal warbling, well designed to presage bad things happening. While the narrator (Desai) is measured and unhurried, the editing also introduces a sense of unease.
The film’s impact is powerful as Desai humanises the problem and creates an understanding for the plight of the miners.
This translates into shock and anger on the part of the audience in the immediate aftermath of the screening. But whether it will translate into anything long term remains to be seen.
If you liked Dear Mandela or Taxi to the Dark Side you will like this.