Ben Fogel writes on the new footage of the Marikana Massacre screened on Channel Four in the UK and asks where was the South African media?
Five months after the Marikana Massacre in South Africa, footage of police action at the ‘killing koppie‘ ["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. Rather, it was Channel 4 in the United Kingdom who brought this footage to light. Why then did it take so long for the footage to reach us and why did it reach 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 in the aftermath of the massacre, but 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 highly disturbing 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 to not shoot the “bastard”. It shows numerous corpses around the area with police idly watching over, 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 a action movie. It blurs the line between the hyper-reality of a video game and the grotesque of a snuff film.
One scene shows two workers attempting to wriggle away from the police, a hopeless attempt as the police are standing around them, looking somewhat 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.
It seems that there is more footage to come that escaped what can only be described as one of the most poorly executed cover-ups in law enforcement history. It even surpasses the old death by soap stories of our previous political regime in stupidity. All the facts were there. The problem was nobody really bothered to look beyond press statements and the original television footage. Nobody initally bothered to speak to the miners except for a few radicals and, easily ignored by virtue of their divergence from the range of acceptable opinion.
The myth of Marikana as self-defense should by now 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.”
Surely this counts 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 killings. No mass demonstrations, no real collective outrage, mainly just passive acceptance and in some cases support for state violence. Not that any of that collective apathy stopped the mass strike wave which took hold across the platinum belt.
It remains to be seen if such visceral evidence of the atrocities which took place that day will spark a more heated reaction, but so far the media response at least is quite tame, treating it still as yesterday’s news not worthy of a renewed focus on the events of that day.
Maybe, just maybe, it might 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.
In the meanwhile, the story of Marikana continues. Most workers at Lonmin’s platinum mines apparently have not received their promised 22% raise and there are numerous reports of disappearances and continued intimidation with many workers having simply disappeared and remaining unaccounted for. As the recent news of the mass retrenchments at Amplats show us, the mineworkers struggle is far from over.