… OR DOES IT EXPLODE?
An interview with Aliki Saragas, director of Strike a Rock (2017)
By Amy Loureth Worster
Aliki Saragas is a Johannesburg-based filmmaker and the director of Strike a Rock (2017) – a stirring new documentary about Primrose Sonti and Thumeka Magwangqana, the founders of Marikana’s womxn’s organisation Sikhala Sonke (We Cry Together). Sikhala Sonke was born in response to the tragic events of August 16th, 2012 – the Marikana Massacre – which left 34 mineworkers dead on the scene, and deeply traumatised an entire community.
Five years later, Primrose is an EFF parliamentarian and Thumeka is a community leader in the Nkaneng informal settlement in Marikana. Both womxn are caught up in an ongoing battle, against platinum giant Lonmin Plc and the South African government, that will test not only their resolve, but their friendship, too.
Strike a Rock is both a celebration of the activism and bravery of the womxn of Sikhala Sonke, and a resounding call to action that Lonmin and the South African government be held accountable for their repeated failures to provide adequate living conditions for the Marikana community.
In 2017, Strike a Rock won the Audience Award at the Encounters Documentary Festival and Best South African Documentary at the Durban International Film Festival.
On the 30th of August, I chatted to Aliki about her ground-breaking film.
ALW: Before we talk about Strike a Rock, please tell me a little about your journey to becoming a documentary filmmaker?
AS: I think photography and the cinematic image have always been in my blood, so to speak. (laughs) I studied [filmmaking] at Wits and, while I was there, I participated in the [North-South-South Higher Education Exchange Programme] where you go to Finland to make a documentary, and then filmmaking students from Finland and Ghana come to South Africa to make a documentary here. I think that’s where my love for documentary was born. After that, I did my Master’s in Documentary Arts at UCT, and this solidified [my passion]. I love telling real stories and making the mundane extraordinary.
What inspired you to tell this story about the womxn of Sikhala Sonke?
I started Strike a Rock in 2014 – it was then called Mama Marikana – while I was doing my Master’s. I had come across an article by Camalita Naicker about the missing voices of Marikana. Having been a student when [the massacre] happened, and having been appalled that something like this could happen in postapartheid South Africa, I read this article about this amazing womxn’s group, and I thought, “Wow,” you know, “no one knows this story.” So, Mama Marikana and my research began out of a need to reinsert these incredible womxn’s voices back into the narrative of Marikana and the dominant media discourse which, up until this film, had erased the womxn’s voices and their activism. I was very fortunate to meet [Thumeka and Primrose] soon after I read the article, and they were interested in collaborating and doing a film together. Our intentions were always to make a film that highlighted their voices and put them on the world stage. After completing my Master’s, I felt that I hadn’t done justice to this story yet. So, I continued to develop the narrative and capture the struggle of Sikhala Sonke for another two years, so I could do a more in-depth portrayal of the womxn and their lives.
You mentioned that the film was originally called Mama Marikana. Why did you change the name to Strike a Rock?
After completing my [60 minute] Master’s film, I needed something fresh for the feature length. I also felt like I needed something a bit more universal, because some people don’t know where or what Marikana is, and I didn’t want that to [deter them from watching the film]. Also, unfortunately, [the South African public] had hit a patch of “Marikana fatigue” – people had heard a lot about Marikana and the mineworkers, and I was afraid that they wouldn’t give this story a chance if they thought it was [more of the same narrative], which isn’t the case. So, I brainstormed with my producers, and one of them, Anita Khanna, came up with the title Strike a Rock, which obviously speaks to the 1956 womxn’s march to the Union Buildings where the phrase “Wathint’ abafazi, wathint’ imbokodo”, which means “you strike a womxn, you strike a rock”, gained popularity. Obviously, there is also the mining connotation [implicit in “rock”].
Strike a Rock highlights that in the five years since the terrible Marikana Massacre, very little has been done to improve the living conditions of the Marikana community. Has anything changed since the film’s release?
Not enough has been done and progress is slow. The people who live in Marikana are disappointed and, in fact, they will tell you that their living conditions have worsened since the massacre. Strike a Rock reveals that the [poor] living conditions gave rise to the strike in the first place. Most people aren’t aware of that. When people think of Marikana, they think that the 16th of August 2012 is where it all started, but it’s not. Every mining company in South Africa needs a Social Labour Plan (SLP) to be licensed to mine. SLPs make it an obligation for [mining companies] to develop the communities around which they mine – [by providing adequate] housing, sanitation, water, and electricity. Strike a Rock touches on Lonmin’s 2006 SLP which detailed that, before 2011, [Lonmin] would build 5,500 houses for the people of Marikana. At the time of the massacre in 2012, they’d built only 3. The Department of Mineral Resources reserves that right to cancel or suspend a mining licence if an SLP hasn’t been adhered to, but they haven’t done so in the case of Lonmin. However, Lonmin isn’t unique – there are many mines around South Africa that don’t comply with their SLPs as they should. Lonmin now has a new SLP, which expires next year, and we hope they will at least adhere to the stipulations of those plans. However, the obligations of the 2006 SLP must still be fulfilled. On the 16th of August 2017 – the fifth anniversary of the Marikana Massacre – myself, Primrose, and Thumeka, were there outside Lonmin’s headquarters in London with Sikhala Sonke’s list of demands. They include the old SLP, the new SLP, a demand that the 16th of August be made a national holiday, and a demand that there be justice for Paulina Masuhlo, who was killed [by rubber bullets] on the 15th of September 2012. So far, there has been no justice for Paulina. Unfortunately, no-one came down to greet us or receive the demands. So, there’s a long way to go, but an immense amount of work has already been done by Civil Society, Amnesty International, and the Centre for Applied Legal Studies, to name a few [of the organisations involved], and they continue to work tirelessly to ensure that mining companies are held accountable. Strike a Rock spotlights the demands of Sikhala Sonke, and we hope – with all the attention it’s getting – that the film will be [a vehicle for change] and make a difference in the lives of the womxn of Sikhala Sonke and [other Marikana residents].
Where will you take the film next?
We’re planning to take Strike a Rock to mining-affected communities across the Global South with the support of various partner organisations and NGOs. We will take SLP toolkits to the communities so that they know what their rights are depending on the specifics of the SLP for the associated mine. We are also planning to conduct feminist workshops to help grow grassroots womxn’s organisations.
Apart from watching the film, in what ways can people support Strike a Rock and the womxn of Marikana?
Anyone can organise their own screening of the film – they just need to contact us at firstname.lastname@example.org and then we will give them a screening pack. Since the film was released in June, I think we’ve screened it over 30 times around the country at different organisations, NGOs, schools, and universities. People can assist Sikhala Sonke directly by donating to one or more of their sustainability projects, such as their vegetable farm, poultry project, or sewing project. Please go to www.strikearock.co.za/get-involved/ for more information.
Do you have any practical advice for young South African filmmakers who want to make documentaries – like Strike a Rock – about social consciousness and justice?
It’s not easy. My advice is: just show up. If you have a story that you think needs to be told, you’ll have to hustle as much as you can. If you’re able to get a camera – just show up and film. Someone once told me that there is no right or wrong, you must just trust your gut, and that’s really what I’ve learnt throughout this process – that you can’t make a film based on anyone else’s opinions or anyone else’s intention. It must be your intention, and, if you follow your gut, the film that wants to be made will be made. If you ever feel that you want to give up, just keep at it and just keep showing up.
Strike a Rock will be screening at the Bioscope Independent Cinema in Johannesburg from the 1st to the 7th of September.