Getting Ready 19

I was sent a video https://vimeo.com/126371846

August, 2012: Miners at the Lonmins platinum mine in Marakana, South Africa are represented by the NUM, National Union of Miners, which has been MIA from the point of view of the miners. Workers want wage increases and ask to negotiate with employers. There’s a minority union, AMCU, that represents workers at other mines. The Lonmins miners strike. The employer won’t negotiate, won’t speak. Strikers retreat to a “mountain,” a rock outcropping on communal land within view of the mine. The police, at a high government level, and the mine owners, collude. That is, the government, using the police, and the mine owners collude. Some government officials, including those who had been activists in the age of Mandela, are shareholders in the mine if not actually board members. The film uses evidence made available through a Commission of Inquiry, including police footage and footage captured by journalists, plus footage of the inquiry and interviews. One of the journalists who is credited with some of the footage is also visible in the police videos, walking among the strikers with all his cameras.

The miners are armed with sticks and short spears and wear blankets, if they have them. They also sing.

The police basically trap them and massacre 34 of them on August 16.

If you want to see footage of dramatic moments of choice, eloquence, and courage, watch this film. We’ve heard of moments like the ones where the striking miners in West Virginia knelt in the face of armed police; this is a film full of moments like that, and more.

Facing the inquiry later, the people responsible – commissioners of police, etc – respond like corpses as if their skin, right down to the bones, has gone cold. They are like well-dressed dead people.

There was Ford Foundation money in the making of this film: JustFilms and WorldView. There’s a facilitators guide put out by the National Union of Metalworkers SA, which I will try to get. Manny Ness, who was on the list of some 60 people who got the email, said that the director’s name is Rehad Desai; he is also an activist in the Democratic Left Front, which supports a socialist transformation of South Africa. He is at rehad@icon.co.za

After the massacre, workers continued striking for 4 weeks, got wage increases of 7% to 22%, and started a wave of wildcat strikes throughout the country.

When something is so emotionally moving that I have to scramble to keep it in focus so I can calm down to think about it, I usually find some part of it to replay slowly several times in my mind, to analyze. In this case I’m thinking of the speech made to the striking miners by the AMCU leader, who comes to them where they are sitting (maybe 1000 of them?) on “the mountain,” the rock outcropping, the morning after he has been on the radio in a conversation with a spokesperson for Lonmins and the president of the NUM. In that broadcast, which is included in the movie, it certainly sounds as if all three – the representative of Lonmins, and the presidents of NUM and AMCU – have agreed to go to the strikers and, in return for them agreeing to go back to work, start to hear their grievances and negotiate. The Lonmins representative does not show up. The president of the NUM comes, but does not get out of the big truck – some kind of armored vehicle driven by the police. He speaks through a loudspeaker and then leaves. The president of the AMCU gets out and comes toward the strikers. He speaks. They speak back and forth. They talk. At one point, he falls on his knees before them. The exchange between them creates a shift in the stalemate and makes it seem as if there can be movement toward negotiation. Thinking about this speech makes me want to cry.

Another thing to look at is the way the striking miners walk together. They crouch a little, as if they are dancing. They’re holding their weapons, spears and sticks, so it reminds the Western observer (me) of images of men dancing a dance about hunting. But they walk in a line, several abreast, and the line straggles out for hundreds of yards. They keep the line at one point in the film despite being bombarded with tear gas. Later, they are in a line like this when the police start shooting at them.

Take a deep breath. What if we looked at this film and asked, “What does ‘social dialog’ mean?” That’s a term that is used often in the curriculum we are working with in our Vietnam classes. I think they use “social dialog” to mean negotiation.  Dialog means people talking to each other. What does talking to each other look like? What the AMCU leader does is an example of talking. Yes, surrounded by guns. How does the idea of ‘social dialog’ accommodate the possibility of guns?

Also starting to read Angie Ngoc Tran’s big powerful book.

I’m wrapping up doctors’ appointments (cardio, PT, onco, eyes, pharmacy, etc etc etc because I am 71 years old these days and shit happens), ordering prescriptions, putting stuff into boxes to store so that the tenants, Katy and James, can use our closet while we’re gone for 6 months.

From across the hall I can hear wild cheering from Joe’s study; he’s listening to the Madison rally for Bernie Sanders. Sounds like a lot of really mad, happy people. We’ll see. Bernie has drawn huge crowds, but gets hardly any mention in the newspapers, which are obsessed with Hilary Clinton.

Before dinner, I go down to the gym. It’s the 4th of July and a guy who finished up about the same time I do says, “Happy Fourth of July.”

I say, “What are we celebrating?” I’m thinking of “Bombs Bursting in Air,” and a recent email by Mike Eisenscher at USLAW about the war economy.

“Freedom and independence,” he says. “That’s what I came to the US for.”

He came from Vietnam. He tells me that when the Communists came, they took all the books in his house and burned them on the front lawn. He got here through a program that let people who had been in prison for more than three years to come to the US with their families. He said they had 14 houses in Saigon, stolen by the Communists, and the price of bribing the officials to get the houses back was nearly as much as the houses brought on the market once they were able to sell them.

He now teaches at Berkeley and has an office on 4th Street.

I told him what we were going to do in Ho Chi Minh City at Ton Duc Thang University. “We’re going to teach labor relations.” He seemed to think we might do some good. He said that a big problem in Vietnam now, at work, was sexual harassment.

He noted that the President of Vietnam is in Washington right now, meeting with Obama. “It’s a chess game,” he said. They are trying to surround China. He used a word from Kung Fu to describe why the Chinese are building these islands right in the middle of the sea off shore Vietnam. The gesture he made, of striking someone in the hip and knocking them off balance, said it all.

We exchanged contact information.

Sometimes I sit in the front yard, or in the back yard, and can’t imagine why I would ever want to leave and go anywhere.