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18 January 2018 14:05 (South Africa)
South Africa

Marikana: Where art thou?

  • Greg Nicolson
    greg nicolson BW
    Greg Nicolson

    Nicolson left his hometown of Melbourne to move to Johannesburg, beset by fears Australia was going to the dogs. With a camera and a Mac in his bag, he ventures out to cover power and politics, the lives of those included and those excluded. He can be found at the tavern, searching for a good story or drowning a bad one.

  • South Africa

Two years after the Marikana massacre, artists have been interpreting the event and asking what it means for the country. GREG NICOLSON looks at some of the work out there and asks where all the mainstream musicians are at.

It was self-protection” – Police.

It was the Police” – Union.

It was the strikers” – Lonmin.

Nothing, said the dead miners.

36 Shot Salute – Afurakan T Mohare

Thabiso Mohare, known as Afurakan, wrote this poem in the days after the Marikana massacre. He noticed different parties were apportioning blame but the key issue – what the miners were asking for – was being forgotten. The dead will never be heard and their demands are drowned out by politics and press agents. “Whether it’s criticising, praising, reflecting or just reconstructing what happened, as an artist, as a poet, it’s your duty to respond because if it has touched you personally, if it has invoked some sort of reaction, an emotional reaction, out of you then it’s important you put it into words,” says Mohare.

Two years after the killings, artists have looked at the issue in different ways. Mohare’s poem is featured in a collection of essays, articles and poetry called Marikana: A moment in time, released last year by Geko Publishing. In the foreword, Makhosazana Xaba says the writers raise questions about how we understand inequalities, the past and the future.

Jeanine McKeown’s “Marikana 2012” finishes by looking at the country exposed:

At Marikana

the naked underbelly

of our rainbow

lay ripped apart




in bullets

in panic

in shame

It’s not just the poets looking at the issue. Last week, an anonymous collective of Cape Town artists used the public space to remember the dead. Streets were re-named after the 34 protesters killed on 16 August 2012 and city statues became monuments to mineworkers. For a day, the system had been subverted and the identity and values inherent in names and icons were challenged.

Earlier this year, The Man in the Green Jacket featured at the Joburg Theatre. Written and directed by Eliot Moleba, the powerful play is in part a response to the Marikana massacre, but focuses on the conditions that contributed to the strike – the lives of miners, a father and son, trapped in the same cycle of struggle.

Another stage adaption, Marikana: the Musical, debuted at the Grahamstown National Arts Festival in July. It was adapted from the book We are Going to Kill Each Other Today, which includes accounts from South African journalists Felix Dlangamandla, Thanduxolo Jika, Lucas Ledwaba, Sebabatso Mosamo, Athandiwe Saba and Leon Sadiki. Speaking to the Guardian, Ledwaba recalled how protest theatre during Apartheid was interactive and emotional. “It was only after writing the book I realised the story had to be told in another medium. It has to reach as many people as possible. If we keep quiet and don't want to speak about it and dramatise it, we are doing a disservice to our country and the people who were killed,” said Ledwaba. Director Aubrey Sekhabi said a musical was fitting. "We sing to mourn, to heal, to rejoice. Our pain, our miseries, we sing. When the miners were out there on the koppie in Marikana, they were telling their frustrations through song.”

Other artists have also tackled the issue. Organisers of last year’s FNB Joburg Art Fair banned Ayanda Mabulu’s Yakhali’inkomo (Black Man’s Cry), reportedly so as not to offend the event’s relationship with government. The emotionally-charged painting depicts President Jacob Zuma standing on the head of a miner in the political theatre where the powerful treat the black working class like cattle in a bull fight. The painting was only put back on display after photographer David Goldblatt threatened to withdraw his exhibition.

As yet, however, popular, commercial artists have shied away from Marikana. Not even the rappers are taking the bait. Singer and activist Simphiwe Dana released “Nzima”. With lyrics and a video tied to the event, the song is a prayer for those who have endured systemic, ongoing violence. Rapper Zuluboy featured a song titled “Marikana” on his 2012 release Crisis Management. The song fits well with the tragedy, but was written before the massacre occurred and doesn’t directly reference it.

Mohare, one of the managers behind the popular spoken word series Word N Sound, says he expected more from popular genres like hip hop, kwaito, house and electronic dance music. “What are their responses? Because they’re the people who manage to get airtime, who are in people’s ears most of the time. How they would present the issue or how they would respond to it, I think that is irrelevant because as artists we view it differently […] The important thing is that we keep the dialogue going and I think there’s been a huge failure from commercial or mainstream genres to respond to the issue and even just explore it,” says Mohare.

“I think their silence has added to the propaganda around the issue and the maiming and the spin doctoring. Because I think when popular culture responds to such issues, from whatever angle, it forces people to look at it and to just think about it. Just put some thought to it and see how they feel about it. Even if it’s coming across as commercial content, to the next person who hears it, it might start something else.”

Mohare, who works with established poets and amateurs trying their craft on open mic nights, says some poets engage directly with Marikana, while many look at problems in society like poverty, inequality, identity, racism, white wealth, and exploitation. He predicts, however, that Marikana will be a feature in art for generations to come. Just like Soweto 1976, we’ll continue to deconstruct it long after the event.

Currently, artists have to deal with having former Police Minister Nathi Mthethwa, the man politically responsible for the police in 2012, as arts and culture minister. The Cabinet reshuffle could potentially pressure artists that are looking for funding to censor themselves, or put those commenting on Marikana on a collision course with one of the key players involved.

For Mohare, however, artists don’t need to find the answers but ask the questions. “As a poet it’s never your role to supply solutions or give a finite answer, but more than anything people can start thinking, start debating, start talking about it, start questioning their stance about the issue.”

As more information filters down to artists, who often get their information second hand from places like the media, more will be said. “I think it’s something we’ll discuss for 20 or 30 years to come,” says Mohare. DM

Photo: Striking Marikana Lonmin miners march to deliver their demands to Lonmin management. They hold up the image of Mambush, one of the strike leaders killed by police. (Greg Marinovich) Marikana, September 5, 2012.

Read more:

  • Marikana, two years on: Cape Town’s protest artists remember the dead in Daily Maverick

  • Marikana: Putting words to tragedy in Daily Maverick

  • Greg Nicolson
    greg nicolson BW
    Greg Nicolson

    Nicolson left his hometown of Melbourne to move to Johannesburg, beset by fears Australia was going to the dogs. With a camera and a Mac in his bag, he ventures out to cover power and politics, the lives of those included and those excluded. He can be found at the tavern, searching for a good story or drowning a bad one.

  • South Africa

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