Echoes Of Yesteryears Tactics

Marikana Massacre: Police Self-Defence Myth Debunked

Miners Shot Down, the film

In Brief

August 2012 is a time that has since been forgotten, but to some families:

  • it was the month and year they lost their sole providers
  • in a matter of minutes, the world was to later watch protesting miners shot at
  • Rehad Desai has tried to ensure we don’t forget. We may forgive, but we should always remember that we forgave


(1hr 25min 47Sec) Documentary Film of events leading to Marikana Massacre.

Directed by Rehad Desai.

Uhuru Productions, 2014.

Let us take note of the fact that what has happened represent the best of responsible policing. You did what you did because you were being responsible. You were making sure that you continued to live your oath of ensuring that South Africans are safe, and that you equally are a citizen of this country and safety starts with you,” Police General Riah Phiyega.

If Police General Phiyega gets into the history books it could only be for openly declaring her pride at what we now know – thanks to this film – was the slaughter of men running for their lives.

 Some have challenged from the start the official version of what happened that day at Marikana – that the police acted in self-defence – but until now the public has been unable to properly judge for themselves. Whatever the General herself knew or believed, in the context provided by Miners Shot Down, her words couldn’t have been better chosen to undermine our faith in the police.

Using the police’s own video footage of the event, Miners Shot Down shows very clearly that the first 17 men mowed down had been boxed into a barbed-wire trap and were utterly at the mercy of the guns waiting for them. Guns that had been armed with live rounds ordered in for the occasion, along with four mortuary wagons.

We’re unlikely ever to know what instructions were given that morning to the policemen who pulled the triggers, but have a look at the footage and decide if they were under attack as claimed. So much for the killings at ‘Scene I’. No footage is available for ‘Scene II’, which left another 17 miners dead, but Miners Shot Down leaves little doubt that those men, especially the leaders, were picked off one by one by specially-placed marksmen.

What was not widely known before and is told by Desai in this heartrending documentary, is that by mid-morning of 16 August 2012, Association of Mineworkers and Construction Union (AMCU) president Joseph Mathunjwa, observing the convergence of hundreds of armed cops, and applying clear insight into how mine authorities were on the warpath, had successfully managed to convince the striking miners to return to their residences

 But it’s clear from the film that even if the miners were to peacefully disperse, plans had been hatched that would lead to body counts. Police footage showing Mathunjwa pleading with his colleagues to go home, and their subsequent march straight into the jaws of death left us in shock.

 Rehad Desai - Director of Miners' Shot DownDirector Rehad Desai wasn’t out to give a final explanation for why 34 striking Lonmin Mining Company’s rock-drillers died, but by unfolding what he and his researchers could discover of events leading to that day, and piecing together the day itself. This film presents a terrifying picture of collusion between Lonmin executives and the highest levels of the police. Echoes indeed of colonial and apartheid tactics. Indeed, collusion towards suppressing a strike that Lonmin seems to have made little real effort to contain through at least, listening, is a central theme of the film.

 So much happened in the days leading to the 16 August massacre, and in the film we get to see this from several points of view, including by means of Lonmin security footage. As this film tells the tale, the rock-drillers had lost faith in their union to represent their interests. They turned against the National Union of Mineworkers (NUM) and went outside of accepted negotiation structures, then took a firm stance on not being listened to. And with the strikers no longer acting under cover of their union, Lonmin appeared to have called in police support to make the problem go away – by whatever means.

How on earth could Lonmin have imagined these men could be ignored? And how the devil did Cyril Ramaphosa, NUM founder and union veteran and now billionaire Lonmin executive, imagine that bringing in armed police and treating sitting-out workers as criminals would achieve anything but more violence?

We’re not sure how Ramaphosa’s replies during his interview in this film will be decoded into his biography, but for now let’s just say they probably won’t win him friends among the rank and file. In discussions after one public screening of the film we attended, his name was linked with the insatiable elitist greed that is diverting our search for a national strategy for dealing with poverty. 

Mzoxolo Magidiwana, one of the leaders now facing murder chargesMiners Shot Down has been accused from some quarters of being subjective. As if a situation in which the authorities concerned have divested themselves of any responsibility had an objective side for all to see. Sometimes we have to take a stance and Desai has – one, which calls on every viewer to pause and think about his or her own.

At the very least, Desai’s film has shown the families of the miners shot down that their loved-ones and breadwinners were not killed attacking the cops. He has debunked that popular belief – one, which so much press coverage has affirmed by simply taking it for granted.

As Charles Haddon Spurgeon, the 19th century British Particular Baptist preacher declared: “A lie can travel halfway around the world while the truth is putting on its shoes.”

What determines how and when the press tells the stories that matter? We journalists tend to settle for the easiest options – run with what has been provided and forget spending time examining the records or diving into the streets seeking vital detail.

Not all of us failed on this occasion; photographer and writer Greg Marinovich and his colleague Mandy de Waal, with limited resources, did their best to expose what they discovered. Were it not for their dedication and the persistence and support of the TheDaily Maverick and Carte Blanche, the self-serving accounts provided by police and Lonmin would have ruled the day. But this film leads a new assault on the myth constructed to hide what really happened.

Contributions can be made toward supporting the families of the dead miners and to financing the legal fees of miners still facing murder charges.

Donate to Marikana Support Campaign. [This Fund is managed and administered directly by Human Rights Media Trust, not uSpikedMiners Shot Down Donation

Account Name: Human Rights Media Trust

Bank: Nedbank
Branch: Constantia Branch
Branch Code: 101109
Acc. Number: 1011102366
Reference: Marikana Campaign – uSpiked

Contact Uhuru Production through Julie Machin: for a copy of the DVD.