Your blood asks, how were the wealthy
and the law interwoven? With what
sulphurous iron fabric? How did the
poor keep falling into the tribunals?
How did the land become so bitter
for poor children, harshly
nourished on stone and grief?
So it was, and so I leave it written.
Their lives wrote it on my brow.
Pablo Neruda :The Judges
I’ve seen the film Miners shot down three times now. Last night was the third time at an event in East London, which was about remembering Marikana through discussion, music and poetry. Every time I watch the film I am left with more questions than before. Watching the film more than once wills me to remember the atrocity and guard against being desensitised against human suffering; and most of all not to forget about the lives that were disregarded and continue to be disregarded in a democratic country.
There are some heart-wrenching moments in the documentary that bring into question the fraught existence in a post-apartheid South Africa if one is black and poor: while gathered at the koppie the miners realise the extent of the threatening police presence and one of the miners comments about the black police coming to kill black people. This incidence alludes to the role of white policemen inflicting violence on black bodies during apartheid South Africa: in post-apartheid South Africa black policemen are sent to kill black men in order to protect the interests of big business. The day before the massacre Joseph Mathunjwa pleads with the miners by reminding them that “black life is cheap” and that the miners are dispensable because they can be replaced by other desperate black people who may even work for less. These words are significant in light of the global outcry that “black lives matter”.
Three years later there’s no consensus among privileged circles about how to respond to the Marikana massacre (I often feel that there are more commemorations and statues honouring those who fell in a war 70 years ago and the Holocaust is never to be forgotten). The story of 34 miners being killed only three years ago is given little space in our daily lives. Perhaps because it is removed: for some geographically and for others, our privilege blinds us to the reality of living on a R4 000 salary. The social and geographical differences in South Africa make the Marikana massacre something to talk about rather than something that should make us live differently.
The danger of forgetting Marikana or not caring about what it means in South Africa today is a denial that black, poor lives matter: the widows and orphans who have been left destitute matter. Perhaps if we understood the massacre in global terms we would understand that what happens to the miners is not in isolation. Arundhati Roy has written about the role capital (often synonymous with “big business”) plays in rendering poor people’s lives meaningless in the context of a fast-developing India. In her essays The cost of living she poses the question “Build a dam to take away water AWAY from 40 million people. Build a dam to pretend to BRING water to 40 million people. Who are these gods that govern us? Is there no limit to their powers?” And perhaps we in South Africa ought to ask ourselves the same question: Who are these gods that govern us? Is there no limit to their powers?
The Marikana massacre made concrete the idea of power and how power is being used and abused in a post-apartheid South Africa. It is no longer a conspiracy theory that those in power will do anything to protect themselves and their resources because the massacre in Marikana is a clear example of the use of state power to protect the interests of those who benefit by intimidating and killing protestors. Power is no longer abstract in South Africa: those who have it, wield it over us and potentially silence us with it. That’s why we can’t afford to ignore and forget what happened in Marikana. If we forget power will win and we have no one to blame but ourselves.