What happens when you combine capitalism, censorship and cinemas? Part of an answer to that question was on full display last night at the Durban International Film Festival’s second screening of Joseph Oesi’s hard-hitting documentary Black lives matter.
A few of us from Izwe Lethu went together to the Nu-Metro cinema at Pavillion shopping mall to see the film but upon arrival we were informed that it was completely booked out. Disappointed, we attempted to bargain and negotiate for spare tickets – but to no avail. So then we waited. About five minutes before screening time (the movie was to start at 10pm) we soon became aware that – for a film that was seemingly completely booked out – there was no one there except us and a handful of other disappointed people. We waited and yet still we hadn’t seen anyone actually walk into the cinema. Just close to 10pm, a DIFF representative arrived and she was promptly informed about the peculiarity surrounding the entire issue. She then went inside the cinema, saw that there was indeed no one inside, came back, checked the booking screens to see for herself that it in fact did show a fully booked film, and then she joined us in her confusion.
All of us ended up gaining entry into the film (as per the help of the DIFF representative) and all of us ended up praising the film’s courage and delivery in terms of engaging deeply with the complex issues faced by our nation at this time. That aside, the real question at hand is glaringly obvious: WHO BOOKED OUT ALL THE SEATS IN THE CINEMA AND THEN NEVER SHOWED UP? The question was on everyone’s mind and it was thrown numerous times at the DIFF representatives and Nu-Metro staff – all of whom seemed to be as equally astounded as us.
It was in fact after watching the movie and then engaging with the director afterwards (he was present for the screening) that answers soon began to unravel. The film explores the depths of exploitation, violence and greed perpetrated by international mining companies like Lonmin, Impala Platinum, Anglo American and Ivanhoe Plat – in collusion with the State and local tribal leaders – against the people of South Africa, specifically the majority black working class in rural areas who have been forced into working in the mines in the midst of gruelling conditions, with next-to-no-pay, and on land that they in fact historically own. The story opens up with the massacre of Marikana and then widens the narrative to include the widespread violence, murder, collusion, bribery and greed committed by these multinational mining companies at the expense of the people themselves. The film ultimately asks hard questions, holds no punches (especially with the great artist Ayanda Mabulu being on screen), and digs deep into the festering wound that is the “the rainbow nation”. It should therefore come as no surprise to hear of the attempted court interdict threatened by Ivanhoe so as to prevent the film’s screening at DIFF, nor should it come as a surprise to hear that throughout the filming of the movie Mr Joseph Oesi was offered money to not release portions of the film, and nor should it come as a surprise to hear of the difficulty Mr Joseph Oesi is currently having in releasing the movie nationwide. This all culminates in there being no surprise to find that “someone” seemingly block-booked the entire cinema to prevent people from actually buying tickets and seeing the film (Nu-Metro were unable to tell us the details of who made this block-booking).
Why is this no surprise? Well, what does one expect when the order of the day is still a piping hot dish of neo-liberal capitalism that has as its main ingredient Western individualism and greedy profiteering? What does one expect when the government that promised liberation and transformation for the people gets in bed with international conglomerates whose agenda cares nothing for the people or for the land? What does one expect when historical systems of injustice and oppression are left to continue the work of the colonial and apartheid machine – perpetually repeating the patterns of subjugation and poverty that directly affect the black majority of South Africa and leave the white minority in positions of supremacy and privilege? There are no surprises here. None.
Last night, having seen the reality of the underhanded censorship aimed at those who dare to tell the truth – implemented by both the state and their capitalist bedfellows – one cannot help but again feel stirred towards fighting for radical transformation in our lifetime within every sector of society. One cannot help but feel stirred to be part of dismantling and pioneering a new way forward that allows for the working of an economic system that gives space for historical restitution and present equity. The film itself and the controversy surrounding it merely add fuel to this revolutionary fire.
Thus, the struggle continues and we must act quickly and wisely against the vast injustice festering at the very heart and soul of our nation.
Michael van Niekerk – Izwe Lethu