DAY 223:

August 25th, 2017 § 0 comments

I can’t put it better than my friend Sam Salih from Mitilini, who is obviously like me annoyed at the number of volunteers who are giving themselves praise for their amazing actions and showing photos of themselves beaming as they distribute stuff to the refugees as they (the refugees, not the volunteers) emerge from their hiding places.

‘If you helped someone (he says), you don’t need to post hundreds of posts, picture’s to get benefits of him from people around, keep going and stay quiet, and let your actions on the ground and reality speak not your fake media actions ! Thousands of people need help so do not injure human dignity and convert into profit and business .

اذا ساعدت احد ما ، فلا يحُتاج نشر مئات من الصور والمنشورات الإعلامية لأستغلال الموقف، ابقى استمر وحافظ على هدؤك، بالأفعال تُحكم وتُبرهن الخير على الأرض وفي الواقع ، وليسَ الإعلام المزيف التي يستغلها البعض ، ..
الآلاف يحتاجون المساعدة، فلا يمكن جرح كرامة ذلك الإنسان على اساس مساعدة انسانية وتحويلها إلى ربح وتجارة Furthermore, if like me you’re a correspondent of Muslimaid, you’ll have been getting countless messages about how you needed to give £46 or £92 on the 1st of Dhu’l Hijja to get lots of merit, with no pictures and no Facebook thanks. I didn’t have the money spare, so as so often I’ll have to do without the merit.

Not that they didn’t need help in France, of course. As Care4Calais says:

‘We always need dedicated volunteers to:

  • Look for those who need our help who are sleeping under bridges and in ditches and in small, muddy camps in the cold.
  • Help in the Dunkirk camp with cooking and the
  • Calaispic(OK, it’s a glamorous volunteer picture. Sorry.)
  • women and children’s centre.
  • Go to Paris where the situation is desperate and refugees are freezing on the streets.
  • Visit CAOs where our friends from Calais are lonely, isolated and not getting the help they need.
  • Visit those in detention who are scared and alone.
  • Sort and organise our warehouse that makes everything else possible.
  • Co-ordinate all the work that is needed now all across France.

I wouldn’t dream of suggesting this is the only worthwhile thing you can do – you might be researching a cure for arthritic knees, for example, or organising against the cuts in care for the elderly (two causes which are naturally close to my heart). But it’s worth considering if you’ve time to spare.

At the Movies

You’ve probably missed ‘Strike a Rock’, Aliki Saragas’ brilliant film about women survivors of the Marikana miners’ massacre in South Africa. War on Want brought it over for a few memorable showings with two of the leading women, Primrose Sonti and Thumeka Magwangqana present and speaking about the struggle. I can’t find a link to the film (though it’s easy to find the trailer). But coincidentally, I’ve written  a review which you may read if you’re a subscriber to the popular mag RS21. In case you aren’t, here it is:

On August 16th 2012, 34 striking miners were shot dead by the South African security forces, in what has become knpwn as the ‘Marikana massacre’. There has been no apology; no one has been found guilty. The confrontation has become a defining moment in the developing story of post-apartheid South Africa. It’s a story of exploited mineworkers in violent conflict with the bosses, the police, the ruling ANC (still fresh from its victory over apartheid), and the ‘company union’, the National Union of Mineworkers; and it has been told in two films so far. The powerful 2015 documentary, Miners Shot Down by Rehad Desai, which won top honours at that year’s Emmy awards, tells the contested story of the massacre drawing on footage which Desai shot in the weeks leading up to it.

Aliki Saragas’ new Strike a Rock (circulated by War on Want as part of a campaign against neocolonialism) is again a documentary, but a very different one; it focuses on the life of the survivors. In a finely ironic opening scene the CEO of Lonmin congratulates the people that the ‘difficult times’ have been overcome; the union, the company and the ANC government are seen to be in a profitable alliance. Cut to the impoverished streets of Marikana where the shot miners’ widows, grandmothers Primrose Sonti and Thumeka Magwangqana are trying to survive and to win justice. Their organization, Sikhala Sonke (‘we are crying together’) must lead the women to take on the complex task of building unity in daily confrontation against  the many levels of a ruthless power structure.

The film, as the story of this organization, is rooted in the daily life of women, demanding justice at the same time as they cope with survival in the bleak,constantly flooded houses of Marikana. It relentlessly returns to Lonmin’s 2006 promise to build 5,500 houses, constantly shelved; and contrasts the dishonesty of the company and its allies to the fierce desperation and commitment of the women. (Saragas’ company, Elafos Productions, is explicitly feminist and implicitly socialist.) Strike a Rock combines a variety of beauties, strongly and physically presented (the landscape, the women in their daily life and friendships, closeness, laughter, song) and their surrounding horrors – the dirt and misery of the shantytown, the original massacre, and the men who still justify and profit from it. Primrose ‘wins’ the adoption of the opposition EFF to become an MP; but in present-day South Africa under the one-party rule of the ANC, this is almost valueless.

At a turning point, Primrose the battling MP and Thumeka who carries on the fight at home become estranged. This breach in the crucial relationship is – because of the role that the relationship plays – a particularly painful moment; and the straightforward process of confrontational dialogue which leads to resolution is a healing, recalling the complex, not always accepted role of ‘reconciliation’ in South Africa.

Inevitably to me, Strike a Rock recalled to me a much earlier underground classic of miners’ struggle, the 1954 Salt of the Earth which, with blacklisted Hollywood director Herbert Biberman and a mainly amateur cast of Mexican immigrants, told the story of miners on strike in a New Mexico zinc mine against the company; and, in an unforgettable plot twist, centred the resistance on the community’s women who must take the men’s place when they are banned from picketing. At a distance of sixty years, a great deal separates the two films. They share an emphasis on the place of a group of women as the human core of a mining community. Aliki Saragas is a young graduate of the Cape Town Centre for Film and Media Studies, so that where we may assume Biberman had Eisenstein, John Ford and Fritz Lang at the back of his mind, Saragas’ camera is underpinned by fifty years’ more recent history of radical and feminist films from Chris Marker to Chantal Akerman to Five Broken Cameras. The impressive achievement of Strike a Rock fixes the camera eye on the life of the township and its women where resistance, constantly visible, grows naturally out of those harsh conditions (the rain, the puddles, the struggle for food and fuel) which nurture solidarity; with occasional reminders of the places where the profits end up.

Strike a Rock never loses sight of the politics, and closes with Sikhala Sonke’s reasonable, (but ‘impossible’?) demands: a full apology for the massacre, punishment for the guilty, the immediate implementation of the promised building of affordable housing, a living wage. Can South Africa, still dominated by its neocolonial relation to the mining industry, achieve the second revolution which that would entail?


Clearly my promotion of the Hermes’ Experiment’s exciting experimental work has struck a chord (geddit?) and I’ve been inundated with requests for more of their stuff from those who can’t make it over to Dalston or Snape Maltings to hear them live, and who find the rival Petrol Girls a bit too exciting. So, as a taster, here’s ‘Improvisation‘.

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