“When you strike the rock, you strike the woman.
When you strike the woman, you strike the rock”
South African documentary Strike a Rock had its US premiere at the 56th Ann Arbor Film Festival this weekend, where it was also the recipient of a Jury Award. The 87-minute documentary founds itself upon the events of the Marikana Massacre, a tragedy that I had no knowledge of going into this film. In August 2012, hundreds of miners working for Lonmin PLC in Nkaneng, Marikana, went on strike for a living wage (merely $900 a month). Instead of being met by their employers for diplomatic negotiations, the non-violent protesters were attacked by armed police forces, who mercilessly slaughtered 34 miners, and injured at least 50 others. This event had previously been documented by the 2014 film Miners Shot Down, which was cited as an inspiration for director Aliki Saragas, who posed the all-important question: what about the women? Where were they?
Saragas answers this question herself with Strike a Rock, which follows the community of women in Marikana from the massacre itself until the film’s completion in 2017. The documentary centres on two women, Primrose Nokolunga Sonti and Thumeka Magwangqana; best friends, doting grandmothers, and social justice activists. In the wake of the massacre that widowed so many women and left others childless and fatherless, and the death of their friend Paulina, the two women established the Sikhala Sonte, a community-based women’s justice movement whose name translates to: “We are crying together.”
In the years that follow, Saragas documents with incredible power and tenderness the enormous trajectory of the women’s movement and Primrose’s career in parliament, which fights not just for accountability for the massacre, but further to incriminate Lonmin PLC for its failure to uphold legally mandated social housing schemes that had failed to provide safe and sustainable living conditions for the mining community. The lack of action on the part of the government that the narrative documents is truly astounding, but what remains unwavering in the face of such inaction is the strength, spirit, and defiance of Thumeka, Primrose, and the other women of Sikhala Sonte (all of whom are named on-screen when speaking). In light of recent events in the United States and the March for Our Lives movement, the Sikhala Sonte’s cries of “Enough is enough! No more blood!” bear striking resonance.
Not only is Saragas’ film a forceful socio-political document, it also dedicates much of its time and footage to the other aspects of the women’s daily lives. A large majority of scenes take place within the women’s homes, and particular care and attention is paid to their domestic and social lives. A particularly moving scene shows Primrose and others gathering to counsel a young local girl facing a difficult decision in the wake of trauma. Hand in hand with their fierce fighting spirit is the women’s deep affection for one another – they kiss and hug each other constantly – and it is this love and solidarity that binds the justice movement. These women have cried together, and they will fight together until they receive the justice they deserve.
Find out more at strikearock.co.za
by Megan Wilson
Megan is a 19-year-old northerner currently studying film in London. She likes cats, old musicals, and films about lesbians who don’t die. Her favourite films include Carol, Moonlight, Singin’ in the Rain, and Matilda. Twitter: @bertmacklln