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  • "Remember Marikana":Violence and Visual Activism in Post-Apartheid South Africa1
  • Kylie Thomas (bio)

To produce creative works that translate rage into critique and that open spaces for mourning and solidarity with the dead is an essentially hopeful gesture that reaches out and toward others. It is the making of political community (or at least an expression of the desire for it) and an injunction not to give up, but to resist. Such is the case of the interventions made by visual activists in the aftermath of the Marikana massacre of 2012 that refuse to allow the continuities between the violence of apartheid and the violence of the present to go unmarked. The works I focus on here draw attention to how remembering Marikana entails not only commemoration, but a summons for justice and social change.

In 2012, thirty-four of the thousands of miners who were participating in a strike at the Lonmin platinum mine in the Marikana area near Rustenburg, South Africa were killed by the police. The police encircled the miners and opened fire, shooting at them with automatic rifles. No fewer than fourteen of the miners were shot in the back, while others were hunted down and shot at close range as they fled from the police. The Marikana massacre was the first to take place in South Africa [End Page 401] after the end of apartheid. It evoked the violence of the apartheid regime and the massacres that took place at Sharpeville in 1960, in Soweto in 1976, and in Boipatong in 1992. In many ways, the Marikana massacre can be understood as marking the end of the first period of the South African transition and the ideal of the new democratic "rainbow nation," and it has been followed by waves of protests against the persistence of colonial and apartheid-era ideologies and structures and against the corrupt practices of the current state. This essay engages with the work of visual activists who have responded to the Marikana massacre and argues for the importance of these responses in critiquing the failures of the transition and in configuring the post-apartheid public sphere. I focus on the work of the Tokolos Stencils Collective and on Rehad Desai's documentary film Miners Shot Down (2014), as well as the forms of protest these works have in turn generated. These interventions attack the repressive mechanisms of the post-apartheid state and address the traumatized collective psyche of its citizens by making use of visual forms that effectively return the massacre to public view. By insisting that the massacre is not forgotten, the works I discuss below inaugurate public mourning and commemoration and also play a critical part in calling for those who are responsible for the massacre to be held to account.


In February 2012, as part of a project on violence and transition at the Centre for the Study of Violence and Reconciliation in Cape Town, I was writing a research report about vigilantism and police violence in South Africa during and after apartheid.3 In the business pages of local newspapers, I began to track reports of violent incidents in Rustenburg, a town outside of Johannesburg that is the center of the platinum mining industry. Something was brewing there that began to look serious: a photograph of a man lying on the ground at the Impala platinum mine, his head split open, appeared on the front page of the financial section of the Cape Times, above the reports of business news, stock prices, and lists of numbers I have never learned to read. The killing was a response to a strike at the mine and of a conflict between two opposing trade unions. Warning signs of the ongoing crisis of systemic inequality and structural violence on the mines had filtered through to the public, but the strike did not receive too much attention. [End Page 402]

Three months after reading that account of a killing at the mine, I was completing the report, which argued that apartheid-era policing practices remained in place in the aftermath of apartheid and continued to protect the rich and powerful, and still largely white, elite. By...


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pp. 401-422
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