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'Strike a Rock' - the untold realities of Marikana

This is the story of two SA mothers & best friends, Primrose Sonti & Thumeka Magwangqana who are fighting against living conditions that motivated the strike at Marikana which continue to worsen.

Primrose Sonti and Thumeka Magwangqana in the documentary 'Strike a Rock'. Picture: Strikearock.co.za

JOHANNESBURG - Strike a Rock follows the stories of a group of women fighting for justice after the 2012 massacre at Marikana.

The loss of brothers, husbands, fathers and friends at the hands of the South African police in August 2012 shattered their world and their hope of a living wage.

In August, Strike a Rock has a special Women's Day screening as part of Tri-Continental Film Festival at the Bioscope. The film also has multiple impact screenings across the country at universities, schools and in Marikana, as well as other festival screenings as part of Mzansi Women's Festival.

The movie is the story of two South African mothers and best friends, Primrose Sonti and Thumeka Magwangqana. They live in Nkaneng, Marikana, an informal settlement in rural South Africa that sprung up around a mine operated by Lonmin, the third largest platinum extractor in the world.

In the view of 27-year-old Joburg-based filmmaker Aliki Saragas, the company has significant obligations to the community that they mine under and around, but does not comply with all their responsibilities.

The Marikana community became internationally known after the 2012 Marikana Massacre, when 37 striking mineworkers were killed by police. However, instead of improving, the living conditions that motivated the strike in the first place continue to worsen. And this is what Primrose and Thumeka are fighting against.

“Over time we see them grow into two different leaders in the search for social and economic justice. Primrose’s ambition lands her a seat in Parliament with a new, radical opposition party, EFF. But to take up the post she must leave Marikana," says Saragas.

"Thumeka, left behind, faces her fears as she picks up the reigns of the resistance as a community leader.”

The realities of the devastation of the Marikana massacre is widely known and has been criticised globally, including in the award-winning film Miners Shot Down, produced by Uhuru Productions, the co-producers of Strike a Rock.

“But there are voices that have yet to be heard. Voices from the strong women leaders and the community that surrounds the mine have seemingly been erased from the narrative,” says Saragas.

She says this is what drew her so powerfully to the story of Thumeka and Primrose, two grandmothers who were compelled by the tragedy they witnessed to take on leadership roles, exercising their agency and power.

“They force us to recognise that the story of Marikana is not yet over. The film takes the viewer on a journey through trauma, history, loss, memory, friendship, and the fear of being further forgotten as Thumeka and Primrose survive each day.”

When asked what she intended to achieve with this film, Saragas says: “I made a very clear choice that I wanted to create a very intimate film that highlighted and focused on telling the story through the women’s voices from the inside, rather than through external voices that have already shaped the discourse of the space.

"So in that way I spent over three and a half years with Primrose and Thumeka, inside their homes and with their families, which developed into a very strong relationship, that has extended way beyond the film.”

In terms of the team that helped her achieve this goal, she says she had an incredibly strong and supportive team around her. Uhuru Productions came on board as co-producers, with Liani Maasdorp and Anita Khanna the producers.

Strike A Rock is my first documentary feature film and was one of six projects chosen to pitch at Good Pitch Kenya in 2016. It had its world premiere at Encounters International Documentary Festival, and its international premiere at Sheffield Documentary Festival in the UK.”

Filmmakers often experience challenges, and Saragas isn’t immune: “This was my first feature length film, and so was incredibly challenging, especially since it took over three years to make.

"I think one of the hardest obstacles for a first-time filmmaker, or at least for me, is to keep confident in my decisions and stay true to my vision. To understand and trust that I knew what story I wanted to tell. That was part of the journey.

"It also however, allowed me to grow my sense of intuition, which is how I worked throughout. It was a challenge as a first-time filmmaker to get funding but I would advise all other young, emerging filmmakers to keep trying and keep applying as there are more and more opportunities for young women filmmakers than there used to be.

They received funding and support from the National Film and Video Foundation of South Africa, the Bertha Foundation, IDFA Bertha Fund, AfriDocs and Women Make Movies, Inc.

“The film really was a labour of love and would not have been completed if it weren’t for the countless and tireless hours put in by the team,” says Saragas.

“The most exciting is that global NGO War on Want is bringing myself, Thumeka and Primrose from Sikhala Sonke to the UK for a six-day impact screening tour of the film from 11 to 22 August in London, Sheffield and Manchester, with meetings with the Labour Party, feminist movements and the Marikana Support Campaign.

The team is also planning a picket outside Lonmin headquarters in London on 16 August and other protest action with War on Want, the Marikana Support campaign and other organisations.

The documentary recently won the Backsberg Audience Award for best local film at the Encounters South African International Documentary Festival

WATCH: Strike a Rock trailer

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