Where were the South African media at Marikana

The myth of Marikana as self-defense by the police and the company should be conclusively consigned to the dung heap of historical perjury.

Strking miners at Marikana in August 2012 (Government of South Africa, via Flickr).

Five months after the Marikana Massacre in South Africa, footage of police action at the ‘killing koppie’ [or hill] has finally reached the public. This footage somewhat predictably wasn’t brought to our attention by the local media, who have long since moved on to other things since the Marikana story stopped selling. Instead, Channel 4 in the United Kingdom brought this footage to light. Why did it take so long for the footage to reach us, and why did it get us in such a manner? Was it deliberately suppressed, or is there a police whistleblower? One can reasonably speculate that the police were ordered to delete the evidence collected on their mobile phones after the massacre. Still, surely more footage has survived the culling of a cover-up.

Four months after the story of the killing koppie was brought into the mainstream media (working off the research of a group of University of Johannesburg sociologists) by Greg Marinovich and South African web-based publication Daily Maverick, cellphone footage taken by police at the scene of the massacre appears to provide further evidence to support Marinovitch’s claims of ‘execution-style killings.’

The alarming footage shows police moving around, taking potshots, joking about killings, and even boasting about shooting one “motherfucker” ten times, despite the easily ignored plea of one officer not to hit the “bastard.” It shows numerous corpses around the area, with police idly watching while the wounded writhe in agony.

It gives us a first-person perspective of the shooter with the cellphone showing us the gun of the person filming it as if it was a video game or an action movie. It blurs between a video game’s hyper-reality and a snuff film’s grotesque.

One scene shows two workers attempting to wriggle away from the police, a hopeless attempt as the police stand around them, looking amused at their desperation. The police’s tone, although barely audible, is gung-ho, exhilarated at the possibility of finally unleashing their pent-up rage at the bastards.

There seems to be more footage to come that escaped what can only be described as one of the most poorly executed cover-ups in law enforcement history. In stupidity, it surpasses the old death-by-soap stories of our previous political regime. All the facts were there. The problem was that people should have bothered to look beyond press statements and the original television footage. Nobody initially bothered to speak to the miners except for a few radicals. The miners were easily ignored for their divergence from the range of acceptable opinions.

The myth of Marikana as self-defense should be conclusively consigned to the dung heap of historical perjury. Instead, police chief Riah Phiyega’s comments are highly revealing, to say the least: “All we did was our job, and to do it in the manner we were trained.” And to further illustrate how their police accomplished their job so well: “Whatever happened represents the best of responsible policing. You did what you did because you were being responsible. You were making sure that you continue to live your oath.”

Indeed, does this count as an official endorsement of the massacre?

Perhaps the most tragic fact of Marikana was not the killing but the muted response of the South African public in the aftermath of the massacre. There were no mass demonstrations, no absolute collective outrage, mainly just passive acceptance and support for state violence in some cases. Not that any collective apathy stopped the mass strike wave that took hold across the platinum belt.

It remains to be seen if such visceral evidence of the atrocities that occurred that day will spark a more heated reaction. However, so far, the media response is relatively tame, treating it still as yesterday’s news not worthy of a renewed focus on the events of that day.

It could inspire a collective critical retrospective on what went wrong in the coverage of the massacre and a future boycott of press statement journalism. However, there is probably a better chance of retreating into the fortress of objectivity.

Meanwhile, the story of Marikana continues. Most workers at Lonmin’s platinum mines have not received their promised 22% raise. There are numerous reports of disappearances and continued intimidation, with many workers disappearing and remaining unaccounted for. As the recent news of the mass retrenchments at Amplats shows us, the mineworker’s struggle is far from over.

Further Reading

After Mandela

Nelson Mandela would recognize himself in young protesters for whom freedom has been postponed and view South Africa’s government as an obstacle.