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A Killing in the Winelands: 'The eyes can't unsee what they have seen'

Mzukisi (aka Nicolaas) Mdlulwa, who featured in the documentary and attended the premiere. Photo: Facebook / Viewfinder

Mzukisi (aka Nicolaas) Mdlulwa, who featured in the documentary and attended the premiere. Photo: Facebook / Viewfinder

Published Oct 22, 2019

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Cape Town – “The eyes can’t unsee what they have seen.” Haunting words ifrom the documentary  A Killing in the Winelands which premièred at the Labia on Monday night.

The harsh realities hit home when victim Mzukisi (aka Nicolaas) Mdlulwa, who featured in the documentary and attended the premiere, tells you after the screening of the pain he still endures because of recurrent swelling from having lost an eye to a rubber bullet. 

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Rendered unemployable, nearly six years later he is still traumatised by the incident. At the time f being shot he was not even near the scene of the protest where farmworkers in De Doorns wanted their minimum R69 daily wage increased to R150. 

The film was inspired by a reporting job Daneel Knoetze did for the Cape Argus in January 2013. It sparked an unrelenting quest for accountability and recourse for justice – despite eventually being stonewalled by the Independent Police Investigative Directorate (Ipid). He could not forget what he had seen, heard and experienced. 

"What the project tries to do is to bring the methodology of investigative journalism to issues that are affecting the most marginalised people in our society.

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"As much as it’s a film about a single systemic issue in our society, it's also about bringing the power of investigative journalism to new audiences and through new mediums," said Knoetze, of Viewfinder, a new accountability journalism project, before the screening.

Boitumelo Ramahlele of the Commercial Stevedoring Agricultural and Allied Workers said after the screening that “this documentary will serve as an organising tool as the workers must rise again”.

In the months after the Marikana Massacre, the police "terrorised striking farmworkers in the Winelands town of De Doorns". The violence culminated in the death of Letsekang Thokoane, 25, a spaza shop assistant from Lesotho.

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Betty Fortuin Photo: Facebook / Viewfinder

Having seen the 45-minute documentary, one can never drive through the Hex River Valley again without thinking about why Letsekang was shot in the head with a rubber bullet, which nurses removed from his skull shortly before he died, seemingly at point-blank range. 

And why, when the country has been built on the blood and sweat of the miners and the farmworkers – as was pointed out in an audience discussion afterwards – that it's the very same working class that are still being exploited on the farms and being targeted by the police post-democracy.

Viewfinder's first documentary "brings us closer to understanding the true human cost of police brutality and impunity in our society", Knoetze said.

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The documentary follows Letsekang's younger brother, Atang, as he travels back to De Doorns in search of answers. 

Why were the killers not held accountable? Why has there been a lack of progress in investigating the case? These are some of the questions Atang, who attended the screening, is still grappling with.

"What has compounded the pain even more is the way we used to support each other," a sad Atang said afterwards.

From Stofland township, the scene where the murder occurred, a paper trail leads to Ipid's head office in Pretoria, which leaves more questions than answers. Many cases of alleged police brutality are conveniently filed under “unsubstantiated” claims. 

Knoetze said before the screening that through “asking questions systemically about what is wrong in our society”, the documentary helps us “come closer to understanding, firstly, why the state security services are still killing, raping, assaulting many working-class people at a rate that is astonishing; and, secondly, why they are not held accountable”. 

It tells of the “sacrifice Atang and so many people like himself have had to endure and often silently without recourse to justice”, Knoetze said. 

"A total of twenty-seven complaints have emanated from the incident but not one of them resulted in a criminal or disciplinary conviction. 

"In the case of Letsekang specifically the docket is still open. They won't release the docket because they say the investigation is still open, which we can surmise it is not."

The elderly Betty Fortuin, who featured in the documentary and can't find a job on the farms because she is regarded as a "troublemaker", said after the screening it was "very painful to watch the movie and realise nothing much has changed".

Disenfranchised communities' lack of power to seek accountability and a disregard of their rights prevails, but Betty believes Viewfinder's documentary wasn't in vain. 

"One day the rain will come and the sun will shine. Something positive will come out of this for us."

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