Mining giant threatens to gag critical film
A South African documentary, which took just less than four years to complete, almost did not make it to its screening at the Durban International Film Festival today. Mining company Ivanhoe had threatened to interdict it.
“Why Marikana can still happen again!” is the payoff line of the film called Black Lives Matter, which deals head-on with the question of land and illegitimate traditional chiefs making deals that do little to uplift their communities.
“I was preparing a meal with my aunt in London when we heard over the radio about the Marikana shooting,” says veteran journalist and filmmaker Joseph Oesi over lunch on the Durban beachfront. “Just days after the massacre, I was back home in South Africa shooting the film.”
After meeting representatives of Ivanhoe on at least two occasions in the previous week and a marathon session on Wednesday between Oesi’s lawyers, Webster’s Legal, and those of the mining company, Ivanhoe decided not to pursue an interdict. All Webster’s Legal will say of the matter is: “Ivanhoe’s lawyers initially considered interdicting parts of the documentary but thought better of it after the filmmaker remained steadfast.”
Ivanhoe did not answer questions despite earlier indicating they could before City Press went to print.
Oesi says he had contacted all the mining houses he was featuring to request filming on their properties, and then later with the script.
“Impala Platinum refused. So did Anglo and Lonmin, but they offered their own footage of mining operations for me to use. Ivanhoe Plat acknowledged receipt but then sat on it for two years. I tried to talk to them repeatedly. I needed a response to the serious allegations levelled at them by communities affected by their operations. At the last minute – two weeks ago – they invited us to go there and see what we could do to, as they put it, “balance the story”. Claims in the documentary include that:
A chief receives a “salary” and has his home paid for by Ivanhoe;
Villagers receive “minimal” compensation when the company carries out drilling on the plots assigned to them by the traditional authorities; and
Ivanhoe paid royalties to the Mokopane community prior to 2003, but that these “dwindled” after the new chief was installed.
Oesi doesn’t want to say more about Ivanhoe. He wants to talk about the project, which, he says, asks the question: “What benefits does an impoverished The Platreef (Ivanplats) project is still under development, with the sinking of the first shaft having been scheduled for this month. Ivanhoe chairman Robert Friedland has punted it as potentially the world’s largest and most advanced platinum mine, a title currently held by the nearby Mogalakwena mine owned by Anglo American Platinum, which also features in the film.
At this point, there is no mine yet, although prospecting in the area has been ongoing for decades.
The allegations in the documentary regarding Ivanhoe and Platreef are mostly a matter of public record, with a dispute over the succession of Mokopane chief Vaaltyn Kekana dragging on for more than a decade.
Earlier this year, Ivanhoe criticised the Canadian nongovernmental organisation (NGO) Mining Watch for the “promotion of false and dishonest claims” after it forwarded a scathing report on Platreef to the company’s Canadian shareholders.
The report centred on the recent granting of a permit to Ivanhoe to relocate graves around Platreef to make way for its shaft – as well as alleged blasting within 500m of residential buildings.
The company issued a press release that said Aubrey Langa, a Mokopane activist who was the source of most of Mining Watch’s information on community grievances about the mine project, had been convicted for attempted murder.
They did not add that this was in relation to a suicide attempt he made while in the apartheid police’s custody in the 1970s, the local NGO Bench Marks Foundation countered.
– Dewald van Rensburg
community get from these minerals?”
Black Lives Matters looks at deals made with various chiefs in North West and Limpopo – and questions the legitimacy of some of them. The title of the documentary is derived from a work by protest artist Ayanda Mabulu, a commentator in the film, along with young Mokopane community activist Mokete Khoda.
This is the latest major local documentary about the mining industry, following on from award winners Miners Shot Down, about Marikana and Lonmin, and The Shore Break, about dune mining in the former Transkei.