PRETORIA, South Africa (AP) — South Africans sing and dance when they mourn, which is why a musical is a fitting way to commemorate the police shootings of striking miners three years ago, says the lead actor of "Marikana - The Musical."
On Aug. 16 2012, a weekslong labor dispute reached a bloody climax as police opened fire and killed 34 miners in Marikana, a mining town in the North West province. Video footage of miners dropping in a hail of gunfire shocked South Africans and the world. In the days before, 10 miners, police and private security guards were killed, some hacked or burned to death.
Like "Sarafina," the world-touring musical about a student uprising against apartheid, "Marikana - The Musical" dramatizes a moment in South Africa's history, showing the country struggling to uphold ideals of equality, dignity and non-violence.
Mavuso Magabane plays the leader of the strike who was killed in the shootings that were the largest loss of life in a police operation since South Africa achieved majority rule in 1994.
"When we celebrate we sing and dance, when we mourn we sing and dance and when we're angry we sing and dance," Magabane told The Associated Press. He said he prepares for each performance by watching footage of the shooting, and is often in tears by the end of the show.
In the opening scene, the actors rise from beneath the stage, as miners would from a shaft. They sit on a raised metal grid, symbolizing a hill the striking miners occupied. They brandish sticks and machetes and dance with thrusting and stomping warrior-like movements.
The performers sing rousing protest anthems in rich harmonies as the play's tension mounts. They also deliver heartfelt solos, depicting the personal turmoil of the miners, police, union officials and grieving families in the tragedy.
The musical avoids painting the police as villains, with those in uniform often appearing comical and uncertain. The mining bosses are shown as aloof and the unionists out of touch. As the gut-wrenching shooting is re-enacted, actors in bloodied costumes leap into the audience, showing miners trying to escape death.
In the three years since the shootings, South Africans are still haunted by Marikana, the word that has come to represent the killings, the preceding unrest, and the repercussions still felt.
A 645-page report was issued in June this year by a government-appointed commission of inquiry. The report exonerated political leaders accused of using their influence to forcibly end the strike but blamed police leaders for making reckless decisions.
The miners who survived found little closure in the report, choosing this week to sue the government for their injuries and detentions, their lawyer told the South African Broadcasting Corporation. The still mourning families were also disappointed by the report.
"The families felt that despite a two year process, there was still no one held responsible," said Kathleen Hardy, an attorney with the Socio-Economic Rights Institute, one of the legal centers representing 326 dependents of the slain miners.
Now in its second run, the musical was adapted from the book "We are going to kill each other today: The Marikana Story," written by a group of journalists who covered the turbulence.
"This story is real," said writer and director Aubrey Sekhabi. "This is not something to play about, we have to be responsible."