Mining giant threatens to gag critical film

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Joseph Oesi
Joseph Oesi

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 pay-off 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 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.

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