Marikana massacre “worse emotionally” than those of apartheid era, says maker of OW curtain raiser Miners Shot Dead

'Miners Shot Down', photo: archive of One World

The One World festival of human rights documentaries opened in Prague on Monday night with the world premiere of Miners Shot Down. A disturbing film, it maps a police massacre of striking workers at the Marikana mine in South Africa in 2012 that left 34 people dead.

'Miners Shot Down',  photo: archive of One World
The incident drew comparisons with massacres in the apartheid era. However, the fact that his time the bloodshed took place under democracy and an ANC government made it even harder to take, director Rehad Desai told me on Tuesday.

“It was worse emotionally, because we spilt a lot of blood for this government, for the colours of that flag, for the trade union federation and for those unions that have now turned on their own workers.

“It’s been a very traumatic event and it’s led to huge fallout in the country. The political landscape of South Africa will certainly never be the same again.

“We’re going to see a very strong, worker-led, worker-rooted black left-wing opposition develop in South Africa in the course of the next two, three years.”

You were saying last night at the premiere that you yourself come from an ANC background.

“I do. I grew up in exile in the UK. My father spent 50 years of his life fighting for the national liberation movement. My mother was involved with the African National Conference from school age.”

So I guess for you this whole event must have been hugely disillusioning?

“It was disillusioning, but it was also affirming, that actually we can only be our own liberators. We must never stop being alert. We must never entrust our liberation to another class – and the national liberation movement is essentially a movement for the middle class and the ruling class of South Africa.”

In the film there is what you shot yourself on the day of the massacre and before, but also footage from the police and security footage from [mining company] Lonmin. How did you access the other film?

Rehad Desai,  photo: Ian Willoughby
“It was a combination of TV archive and police and security footage. What I did was make an application to the commission of inquiry to use this footage. I was allowed to use it under certain circumstances.

“But some of the very revealing footage was actually from the TV cameras, which I obtained after making very strenuous arguments that this footage was in the public interest of the country.

“I released it simultaneously to the local and international press, and to the commission of inquiry, which has turned the narrative around from that of the police being attacked to one where the police have laid a planned ambush of the mine workers.”

I was going to ask you what you hoped to achieve with the film, but I guess it’s already achieving things if it’s shaping the debate.

“Fundamentally for me, the primary goal is that justice is served for the families of the slain miners, for the 270 miners who still face murder and public violence charges. These charges have to be dropped and the police have to answer in a court of law.”