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Friday
Apr032015

Marikana: A Report from South Africa

A series of special reports exploring the legacy of the Marikana mineworker massacre, in South Africa and beyond

-Feature stories published in The Guardian and Foreign Policy, as well as comment on the Marikana massacre report

-More content at the Pulitzer Center for Crisis Reporting microsite

-Standalone eBook available now, from Zed Books

-Standalone print publication 'Platinum' featuring poster-sized photographs and bilingual text in English & Xhosa, published with the support of the Pulitzer Center and the Rosa Luxembourg Foundation, shortlisted for the inaugural Photo-Text award at Arles, and now available for online order

-Marikana, South Africa 2014-5

In 2014, as South Africa prepared to celebrate its first twenty years of democracy, Jack and photographer Jason Larkin travelled to Marikana to explore the nexus between corporate power, social struggle and state violence in the post-apartheid era, with the support of the Pulitzer Center on Crisis Reporting.

As the Rainbow Nation went to the polls for the first time since the death of Nelson Mandela, mineworkers on the platinum belt launched another mass strike - the biggest labour action in the country's history - less than two years after 34 mineworkers were gunned down by police for demanding a living wage. An in-depth investigation into the legacy of the massacre and political rebellion today has resulted in a number of feature stories (see links on the left), as well as standalone publications in print (English/Xhosa), which have also been distributed on South Africa's platinum belt, and as an eBook. In 2016 'Platinum' was shortlisted for the inaugural Arles Photo-Text award.

The following text is a short extract from the beginning of 'Marikana: A Report From South Africa', the eBook which is available now from Amazon UK and Amazon US, published by Zed Books. Below is a series of short video interviews focusing on some of the themes explored in the story.

On August 16th, 2012, 69 seconds of video footage raced across laptops, television screens and mobile phones throughout the world.

The footage, shot from a single camera, showed armed South African police officers at the bottom of a hill, opening fire on a group of men running down towards them. The men were striking mineworkers, and by the end of the day 34 of them would be dead. Amid clouds of dust raked up by the bullets, an explanation for what happened swiftly emerged. These miners were violent extremists, responsible for the deaths of several members of the security forces as well as many of their fellow workers in the preceding few days. Their strike was illegal and opposed even by their own trade union, and it was dragging South Africa's economy into the mire. High on drugs and persuaded by a local witch-doctor that they were invincible to ammunition, several of the miners had charged recklessly towards police lines, brandishing traditional weapons. In fear for their lives, officers had no choice but to gun them down.

This explanation gained credibility as it was repeated, again and again, by police commanders, by business leaders, by government ministers, and by many journalists. “You had a situation where workers were armed to the teeth, and they were killing their colleagues,” revealed South Africa’s national police commissioner, who later went on to congratulate her officers on displaying ‘the best of responsible policing’ during the tragedy. “Police retreated systematically and were forced to utilise maximum force to defend themselves.”

We now know that almost every aspect of that explanation was a lie. If you shift the camera and view the same events from a different angle, a totally contrasting story emerges: one in which the miners did not charge at the police, but were instead deliberately herded towards them; one in which the police did not shoot reluctantly in self-defence, but rather pursued unarmed, fleeing workers and executed them at close range; one in which the tragedy of Marikana was not really a tragedy at all, but a deliberate massacre born out of a collusion between international corporations and the authority of the state.

Writing about another famous miners’ strike more than a half a century ago, the late anti-apartheid activist Ruth First claimed it was “one of those great historic incidents that, in a flash of illumination, educates a nation, reveals what has been hidden, and destroys lies and illusions.” What happened at Marikana has forced many in South Africa and beyond that country’s borders to ask themselves what other establishment narratives might have been assembled out of lies and illusions, and about the lenses we all use to make sense of the relationships between power, money, and people all around us. The answers aren’t always comfortable. South Africa’s story – of a Rainbow Nation that successfully liberated itself from the shackles of apartheid – has been an inspiration to humans on every corner of the planet. But if you shift the camera angle very slightly, what does liberation really look like?

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Video interview series, by Zed Books (clips)

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Video interview series, by Zed Books (full video)