Meet Aliki Saragas , The director and producer of Strike A Rock, A Film about the Womxn of Marikana.

August 19, 2017

“Remember Marikana” A slogan that  is deeply  etched in the crevices of our minds and hearts. It’s been 5 years since the horrific and brutal killings of Lonmin miners who went on a strike primarily because they were exploited as workers as well as the need for a dramatic change of their horrendous living conditions. In the wake of the massacre comes a story that is rarely told of how the womxn of Marikana  rose “from dust and iron” to fight for their rights and for those who’s blood fell on deaf ears against a colossal mining company(3rd largest Platinum extractor in the world) – Lonmin.

 On today’s #BehindTheLensSpecial we talk  to  Director/ Producer/ Cinematographer  Aliki Saragas about Strike A Rock ,her first Documentary Feature Film and everything that surrounds this heart felt and ambitious project.

Lethabo: If a stranger had to bump into you let’s say, at the Gautrain station and they were intrigued by you, and they wanted to know who Aliki is… Who would you say you are?

Aliki: Well, that’s a hard question for a first one; Who am I? I’m trying to be an artist, an art activist; I am a feminist; my passion is photography. I love tea, traveling, music and I think that’s kind of who I am and I think as a young person I try to do the best as I can to try and bring awareness and solidarity to things I feel are important as well as things I feel that as young South Africans we have the potential and power to change. So, I guess in a nutshell that’s where I am at the moment.

 

L: Okay, so why did you choose this particular story?

A: This really started as part of my Masters… my Masters in Documentary Arts, and I’ve always been someone interested in gender politics and social justice. I came across this article by a journalist called Camalita Naiker who had written about the missing voices of Marikana. As someone who had heard of the Marikana Massacre, had seen it unfold on TV you know, had been incredibly distressed and depressed as well as angry at something can happen in post-Apartheid South Africa. I realized, and recognized from this article that there was this incredible group of women whose voices haven’t yet been heard, who haven’t been given the space in dominant media that they deserved and it’s seemingly erased from the discourse of Marikana. So, for me I felt like this is the story I wanted to tell and I was very fortunate to meet Ma’Thumeka and Ma’Primrose who are the leaders of the SikhalaSonke Women’s Organisation in Marikana and we started a relationship from there and three years later we’ve enabled to launch the film. It’s been an incredible process, an incredibly creative process with Sikhala Sonke. I’ve spent three years in their homes and with their families and so the story, is a really intimate story that is told from the women’s perspective, from the inside out.

Up until now really, the Marikana story has been told from outside in, with perspectives and experts kind of looking in- male voices dominating the space… for me I wanted to make a film that highlights their voices intimately from the inside out, and really just highlight their incredible activism; the empowerment, how they are so empowered. They are so empowering in the way that they fight for justice and accountability five years after the massacre and they are still fighting now. I just wanted to put their voices on the world stage and the film to be a mouthpiece for them.

For every mine in South Africa to be able to have a license to mine they need a social labour plan which is really a set of rules and obligations that they have to comply with which, is really about developing the community that’s around the mine and these are legal obligations.

L: Has Sikhala Sonke been relentless and resilient in their fight for justice?

A: One Hundred percent… completely… They formed Sikhala Sonke at a time of crisis, directly after the massacre to firstly unite the women of Wonderkop Marikana, and also to support the mine workers in their struggle and they have been doing so ever since. Really what people must also understand is that the living conditions in Marikana are (as Lonmin had admitted at the Commission of Inquiry) “the conditions are appalling”-you see those words? So the conditions in Nkaneng which is the informal settlement around the mine have no running water; there’s no electricity you know; there’s no ablution. When it rains , the water pours on top of their beds before water rushes in the household. These kind of conditions led to the strike in 2012.

They said they’re not allowed to march; they have to make another plan and get lawyers involved.

For every mine in South Africa to be able to have a license to mine they need a social labour plan which is really a set of rules and obligations that they have to comply with which, is really about developing the community that’s around the mine and these are legal obligations. For example, the film unpacks that in 2006 Lonmin had a social labour plan; one part of it was that they had to build 5 500 houses in the community of Marikana. And then  in 2011 by their deadline; and by the time of the massacre in 2012 only three show houses had been built out of 5 500. So, this is the context in which the women find themselves in; and they have done countless marches against Lonmin, some of which they were not allowed to march. They said they’re not allowed to march; they have to make another plan, and get lawyers involved. In other ways they have been speaking on public platforms since the massacre to try and bring a light onto the living conditions and what’s happening in Marikana, and they’ve been doing so seamlessly throughout and even managed to lodge a complaint at the World Bank for an investment that the World Bank made to Lonmin- $15 million dollars was invested into Lonmin for development which nothing has happened. Sikhala Sonke, comprising mostly of mothers and grandmothers who live in shacks were able to sit with Lonmin at a table through this complaint at the World Bank. This is an incredible group of women and the leaders; Thumeka and Primrose are the most strong, powerful women that are leading this movement.

L: I’m actually blown away by some of the things that you’re saying, and the level at which these women have been able to push and fight for their cause. And, when I was reading about the movie I came across the name Paulina… who was Paulina? I became very curious because Sikhala Sonke was started as a result of her death so, I would like to know, why she was killed and who she was.

 

She died as a result of this police brutality in the community and her name has kind of been forgotten in the whole narrative

 

A: A month after the massacre… not a lot of people really know that Marikana became a de facto state of emergency where the police would enter the community with impunity and raid homes for traditional weapons; or for violence that needed arrest or whatever the case is. But, they would do so by throwing tear gas into people’s homes you know; shooting rubber bullets, really in the community which is in essence a space where women and children live and walk around and just try to get by every day. So, what happened is, a month after the massacre this was all going on, the women had gathered, it wasn’t yet officially Sikhala Sonke but they had gathered and were waiting for other people to arrive. The police entered the community as they have been doing and just started firing rubber bullets. To Primrose who is one of the leaders in the film, I mean her story within the film and through her own leadership; she ends up being an MP in parliament. So, that’s incredible as well but-so Primrose was there. They were shooting rubber bullets and they all kind of hunched and just waited for the bullets to hit them, and Paulina was then shot. She was shot on her leg with a rubber bullet that got lodged into her leg; she went to go have an operation but died due to complication from the shooting. She died as a result of this police brutality in the community and her name has kind of been forgotten in the whole narrative, even when they bring up her name on the Commission of Enquiry; they said that her story fell out of the realm of what they were trying to achieve at the commission.

 

L: Are you serious?

A: Ja, there’s really been no justice for Paulina. As a result also of that, women did another march against police brutality and Sikhala Sonke was really kind of thrust into fruition from Paulina’s death. So ja, that’s Paulina’s story. The film is dedicated to her, and to her memory and we hope that this film as can bring more awareness to her story.

L: Indeed. I think it’s very important for her name to live on . This whole community came together based obviously on the Marikana massacre and the injustice that happened to Paulina. Her story needs to be told, people need to know that there were other casualties of the cause and I do hope in the future there’ll be more about her and what she stood for, and what she was about at that time as well… Just to go a bit lighter, is this your first film project?

A: Yeah! It is my first feature doc.

 

L: How was it embarking on such a huge project, and the experience behind it?

A: Ja, I mean, it was a process of over three years… I mean, I started the project when I was twenty-four. Starting, I was very concerned and always questioning myself: “Am I emotionally mature enough for this story? Can I tell this story responsibly, and give justice to the story? These are constantly questions-you know, I’m not from Marikana; I’m from Johannesburg; a young White girl. How am I going to give justice to these incredible people? These were the questions I grappled with throughout the process, and I feel as a documentary film maker, these are the questions you have to ask because you have such a responsibility; you have people’s representations in your hands. It was a huge learning curve for me and after spending so much time with Ma’Thumeka, M’aPrimrose and  Sikhala Sonke, it became so much more than just a film that was about reinserting voices. It became to me a film that was so important about the current landscape; and about extractives; and about what they were still fighting for. It’s not just about the massacre which is the starting point in the film; it is about what is continuously happening, and not only in Marikana- it’s kind of like a microcosm for the rest of South Africa; and norms and extractions; and even the globe itself. It was really challenging-because it’s incredibly, obviously hard content. The community is really traumatized, I think a lot of people don’t realize how traumatized the community is; the women; the children; it runs really, really deep. And, there are organizations like the CSVR who are trying to assist with counselling, Thumeka herself is a counsellor in the community. So, obviously the content was challenging as a first-time film maker and as a woman you know, that also brought up its own challenges with funding; you know, a lot of it you have to do yourself to be able to get it into fruition. I mean, I filmed most of the film myself as well so, I must say that I had the most incredible team around me; mentors and producers that just held open doors for me, and I’ll always be forever grateful. We also had the Bertha Foundation; Afridocs; Women Make Movies to name a few. Even though it was hard to get funding, there was a group of people who felt that this film was worth being made, and I’ll always be grateful for that but that was also quite a big challenge. I guess at the end of the day like, this film completely changed my life; and as the film grew, I grew. I can’t see myself doing any other work because; the whole story and the whole process touched me so deeply. Ja, it’s completely my life now. We started a Big Impact campaign with the film too; it goes alongside the film so, as we do our festival screenings which, we we’re very fortunate and very humble to be doing quite well and winning some awards. we are screening at universities; schools; and organizations all across the country  and even in other parts of Africa as well as the world which is really based in building public pressure to assist Sikhala Sonke with what they are doing. If you go onto out website: www.strikearock.co.za there’s a ‘Take Action’ page where anybody can choose which way they’d like to take action whether it’s organizing a screening; or supporting Sikhala Sonke directly; support the Big Impact campaign directly, there’s multiple ways in which people can assist. One of the greatest things actually is that MaThumeka, MaPrimrose and myself were invited by War on Want [confirm wording of organization at 12:20s] which, is this big organization, to go to the UK this week Friday (11/08/2017) and we doing this six-day tour of the film in the UK with solidarity groups like the Marikana Support Campaign; War on Want; Black Lives Matter movement]; and other feminist movements. We are going to be picketing outside Lonmin on the 16th of August with MaThumeka and MaPrimrose there to  actually bring their story to their doorstep. So that’s also part of the campaign we are doing alongside the film, and I know that this is going to continue for quite a few years most probably, and I hope that it will put the pressure that we need.

 

L: With regards to the screenings and putting it out there, what are you hoping to achieve? What are you hoping, giving this film to communities around mining towns; communities in general who are suffering from such injustices will achieve?

A: I mean, there’s multiple things that we hope to achieve for organizations; and activists; and you say universities who watch the film, we hope that it stirs in them solidarity and anger to be able to build on this public pressure that we need. ‘Cause the more people see the film, the more people see the injustice and it kind of exposes it and then, we hope that that will put the public pressure that we need when we do hopefully take the film to policy makers and to the top- who needs to see it. And then for our community-based screenings at mining-affected communities; we have fantastic partners already like Amnesty International and what we plan on doing is to create social labour plan toolkits. Every community that we go to we show them what their social labour plans are for that particular mine, and what their right to recourse around that is, as well as feminist workshops. With regards to community-based screenings, it’s about knowing and inspiring people to see what (especially women in the community) Sikhala Sonke is able to do and hopefully inspire people to do the same, and to know what their rights and recourse are. So, those are some of the actionable goals we’d like to achieve through the release of the film.

L: One last question, please tell what the Sisters Working in Film & Television is, and what your role is in that organization?

A: Cool. So, SWIFT (Sisters Working in Film & Television) is a newly formed NPO for women in the television and film industry in South Africa. So, everyone who is in the film and television industry both in front, and behind the lens is welcome to join our organization. We launched officially in Durban, at the Durban International Film Festival this year in July.

It’s a fantastic organization because it really came out of a need that women aren’t necessarily safe in the industry; that they needed mentorship and skills; that they felt they needed a connection and network of women. I’m involved in the advocacy sub-committee of SWIFT. What we really focussed on is the fact that women really, in the film and television industry in general, in South Africa don’t feel safe. We launched a survey in the beginning of the year which was for sexual harassment and discrimination, and the statistics that came out of that survey were really appalling. For example, 70% of women don’t feel safe in the industry; I could send you all the stats if you like, I can’t think them all from the top of my head. It’s horrific, and so what we currently doing is we are currently busy with the #ThatsNotOkay campaign which we launched yesterday at the Mzansi Women’s Festival. It’s a campaign to bring awareness to sexual harassment and discrimination on on set and hopefully put in place as a code of conduct that all the big players in the industry will have to advocate for people to sign so that women can be protected against sexual harassment and discrimination. That’s what I’m currently doing at SWIFT is that we pushing the #ThatsNotOkay campaign, to make it safer for women in the industry. But SWIFT is very Multifaceted  since we’ve got mentorship and skills programmes where young women can be mentored by other professionals to kind of bridge that gap from the university to the industry.

We also have Sisterhood Cinema, which shows transformative roles of women in front, and behind the lens you know, kind of an empowered representation. We’ve got a very large social media group and following and ja, it is a really great organization. We officially have been around since the middle of last year; we’ve officially launched and we already got a huge following and footstep around the country. So there obviously is a need for this, and hopefully we will be going from strength to strength.

 

L: Wow! Look, you doing amazing work; your team, the people you working with, you guys are really standing for something very powerful. Most importantly, you giving back also, empowering communities and empowering yourselves at the same time so, I really feel like I’d like to thank you first and foremost for embarking on this journey. I believe that you have found yourself as well in terms of what you wanna be about you know, in life, the whole spectrum. I believe. I feel like congratulating you- “congratulating” is not the right word but, I am humbled and I respect what you are doing. I hope this reaches as far as it should, and applies the right kind of pressure and lives get changed thoroughly through Marikana; through the SWIFT organization you know, I wish you all the best.

 

A: Thank you. Thank you very much, I really appreciate that.

 

Stream Strike a rock on Afridocs watch it on Sunday 20th August at 10pm (CAT) on BET Africa, DStv channel 129

 

Words By: Lethabo Ngakane

 

 

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