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Art, Music, Reality

44 Shots

by Iain Robinson / Images by Morrel Shilenge / 16.08.2013

1 shot for business as usual / big money hates a strike and the feeling is mutual
1 shot for cops in the pocket of power
1 shot for clocks showing a final hour
1 shot for TV telling half the story
1 shot for the truth is the reality is more gory
1 shot for running in the wrong direction
1 shot burials and body collection
1 shot for families alone and scared
1 shot for stories manufactured and prepared
1 shot fingers that the people shouldn’t point
1 shot for dirt that the blood anoints
1 shot selling all that mineral wealth
1 shot deteriorating lives and health
1 shot for carry on day to day
1 shot for CEOs who still get paid
1 shot for power and the money it takes
1 shot for politics and the noise it makes
1 shot for bodies that he’s walking over
1st name Julius / last name Ramaphosa
cheap politics and funeral plans / 1 shot for the leaders of a wounded land
1 shot for still stuck in chains from the past
for unity first and unions last

1 shot for 44 with nothing to show
1 shot for NO coz if you didn’t now you know

44 shots / Now you know your place
Black like the facts / now you know your place

44 shots / For your right to strike
Black like rest in eternal night

44 shots /coz you had no choice
Coz you have no money means you have no voice

44 shots / You had to die
So the whole world could know about your hopeless lives

1 shot for white people who still don’t know / about the legacy of cheap black labour flow
1 shot for whites sick of taking the blame
1 shot for blacks sick of taking the pain
1 shot for business and union collusion
1 shot for different bullet, different gun, same human
1 shot for far away hidden from sight
1 shot for cops breaking doors down at night
1 shot for old news / same old same old
1 shot for pay dues / new players / old gold
1 shot for 3 letters: B E E
1 shot for black and poor and still not free
1 shot for don’t stop production and profit
1 shot for even dead bodies couldn’t stop it
1 shot for money over man every time
1 shot for crimes buried deep in the mines
1 shot for no-one knows the real deal
1 shot for must work for children’s meals
1 shot for slavery changing shape
1 shot for same struggle / different state
1 shot for history is easy to blame
At the lowest levels / nothing has changed

1 shot for 44 with nothing to show
1 shot for NO coz if you didn’t now you know

That’s 44 shots / Now you know your place
Black like the facts / now you know your place

44 shots / For your right to strike
Black like rest in eternal night

44 shots / coz you had no choice
Coz you have no money means you have no voice

44 shots / You had to die
So the whole world could know about your hopeless lives

10 shots for safety / for my middle class life / for my skin / my protection / my bright white reflection / for being lost in my land / coz I don’t know where to start / for starting by opening ears, eyes and heart

10 shots for those at the top out of danger / for the leadership I get from the death of a stranger / for political games with no escape from the tomb / for political gains in the year of Mangaung / for the union boss in bed with the mines / for the socialist speeches selling capital crimes / for cultural weapons / for cartridge shells / for the cops walking free / for the strikers in the cells

10 shots for 10 shots for many more to come / 1 shot to stand together / nowhere to run / 1 shot to ad another tragedy to legacy / to rewrite the future with the pen of humanity / 1 shot for Marikana / that forgotten spot / 1 shot to realize that all we have is 1 shot


One year on, the Marikana massacre still lurks unabated within South Africa’s conscience. It is the street kid we feel bad for ignoring yet continue with life because hey, it’s not really our problem. It is, in many ways, the afterbirth of raised hopes created by our leaders’ false promises; it is an incessant cyst which, left unabated, shall continue to morph until it’s made manifest in uglier, multiply-complex ways. We have kept a close eye at the artist community’s responses; Cyrilina Ramaphoser’s parody-cum-searing critique is one; professor Pitika Ntuli did an exhibition with references to the event. Fervent discourse has continued in other circles, too; critiques and analyses have been published.

When we heard that artist extraordinaire Ewok was working on a song to commemorate one whole year since Marikana happened, we knew that we had to reach out. And he obliged, even going a step further to offer us an exclusive preview. According to him, “44 shots” begun life as a “spoken word piece written last year when the shit went down.” We threw in some questions, and this is what he had to say.

MAHALA: You’ve mentioned that the track started out as a spoken word piece penned last year. Do you remember exactly where you were when you heard news of the Marikana tragedy? What was your initial response?

Iain “Ewok” Robinson: I got it from the papers. I had been following the ‘wildcat’ strike in the papers the preceding week. The police and security guards and Union members that were the first 10 casualties had already made the news. I got it at home, from the papers, in the morning. The video of the killing was doing fast rounds online so that eventually found its way to my phone. We don’t have a TV at home so I only caught the news reports a day or two later when the story was starting to be analysed. ‘Social’ used to be a much more positive word before we added ‘Media’ to it.

Subsequent to the actual event, there was a lot of confusion around what actually happened. Wasn’t this troubling for you as an artist in terms of getting the facts right?

When I was approached to produce a piece in response I was determined not to rush into it, to gather as much info as possible before trying to make any sense of it. It was immediately apparent that there was going to be plenty of conflicting stories around it. There were too many powerful people involved for there not to be plenty of spin operations in play. I am privileged to be associated with Professor Patrick Bond and the Centre for Civil Society on campus in Durban at UKZN. They provided me with over a thousand pages of every scrap of publicity around Marikana, from the shortest international news clip to serious analysis from theorists and academics. It was amazing to see how much information was generated in such a short space of time. I didn’t produce the piece until about one month later, and even then I sat on it for a while. The CCS hosted a meeting that November, two months later, with representatives from the miners and community members of Marikana and various other ‘players’, including some Union heads. I opened the meeting with the piece, that’s what it was commissioned for as it were.

What was the reaction of the union and miners’ representatives when you first performed the piece?

To be honest, not that big or significant, besides some applause and polite appreciation. Which makes absolute sense. This was a gathering of people that included some who had actually been there, miners, women from the community. This was their immediate reality, so what could I possibly say or produce that would in any way seem significant, a white man from across the country writing words in English to express my far removed feelings? I think it served as a show of solidarity and gave the meeting some sense of occasion, but beyond that little else.


Why the decision to turn it into an actual song?

I wanted to have music with it to give it more weight and also to transcend the language gap, so that the emotion of the piece would hopefully translate beyond the English lyrics. I also wanted to give it a sense of scale in terms of production so that it would be harder to dismiss, so that there would be more for a listener to engage with then just the words.

The Farlam Commission is currently postponed. What’s your take on commissions in general, and on this commission’s performance in particular?

I think that this commission and any like it are incredibly vital mechanisms for maintaining democratic and transparent processes for the sake of redress and eventual reconciliation. That’s why I think they are seen as such a threat to those involved, particularly amongst the upper echelons, who would disguise their actions and motives should they be targeted as being significantly involved or responsible for such an atrocity. That’s being polite. If I was being impolite I would say straight up that the leaders of the ‘security forces’ involved, the leaders of the mining companies involved and even some of the union leaders involved have a vested interest in fudging the facts in their favour to protect themselves. I think the Farlam Commission, or any such, cannot perform effectively if all of the witnesses and evidence leaders are not fully committed to discovering the truth and appointing the appropriate blame.

What, to you, has been the most incisive reaction from the artistic community to the Marikana incident thus far?

The cynic in me would cite the incredible artistic silence around the event as being an incisive action in itself. Aside from some isolated performers who don’t operate in the mainstream media dealing with the issue, it’s true that there has been little significant or large scale artistic reaction, or if there has then it hasn’t been picked up by the press and publicized or communicated to the public at large. The fact that our biggest artists from across the genres didn’t stop what they were doing immediately and focus all of their efforts on raising some kind of collective voice that couldn’t be ignored so that answers would be quicker in coming, as that is the power that they wield in effect, speaks about the apparent lack of political legitimacy we are afforded by the public. Basically, the majority of people don’t seem to want more from artists then entertainment, and as Simphiwe Dana so aptly put it, we have gone from being “voices for the voiceless, to voices in the wilderness”.


You were in France recently as part of the SA/French season. How was the experience? Did you get to speak to people about SA? What’s their overall impression of the country?

France was a milestone experience in my career. I have been back for a couple of weeks now but I find my head is still in Paris on some days. Working with BLUE GENE (the French band I front for) opened up some new elements in my personal performance that I had not accessed previously. I felt an artistic freedom over there that has sunk itself very deep in me now.

As can be expected, people are most shocked by the sensational SA; the crime rates and the every day type of tensions and fears we live with over here. It is unfortunate that their worst impressions of the country are somewhat justified. I think they were also amused at my daily excitement at the little things, like the smooth transport systems, or the general acceptance of Street Art as a legitimate aesthetic component of their city (Paris). I also tripped out on the proper tourist vibe, the Eiffel Tower and such, which I think they also found kind of cute.

They are not scared by South Africa though, they are intrigued by it.

Has there been a point in your career when your outspokenness put you in a bad light? In the same vein, why do you think the mainstream hip hop community has demonstrated such apathy towards issues which concern our society?

Yeah, I have lost some friends in the past over my reactionary type of politics and activism. It has matured me though, and I have learned to become more informed and as neutral as possible until the last possible second before getting behind a cause or committing to any kind of political action, be it a protest or a poem. Having said that, my actions have also solidified many of my friendships, and secured some new ones.

I think many of our mainstream hip hop artists are caught up in a kind of parallel reality called “The Game” or “The Hustle” or whatever y’know? This alternate world that’s all about individual prowess equalling fame and financial success, so music making has become a narrow channel or chain of action that defines success as how many people buy into you. Getting people to buy into you unfortunately means that you then have to dedicate yourself to making people feel comfortable, so they want the comfort of you or your product, and politics and social awareness is hardly ever comfortable. Truth is never comfortable unless it is packaged properly, which often means taking the edge off or diluting its potency. There are artists out there who have a firmer grip on reality, but as always they find themselves on the fringe, on the margins, in a country with a relatively small market for Hip Hop music where entertainers seem to outweigh educators. Again though, this has a lot to do with more people asking to be entertained then to be educated. The apathy works both ways.

In the song you say “The truth is the story’s more gory”, and indeed it is. What’s even scarier, though, is that there is a possibility for this to happen again. In your opinion, how can something like Marikana be averted?

That’s a depressing question, in the way it forces me to admit the almost paralysing size and complexity of the problem. At the very least we have to have to have to continue in whatever way to hold our leaders accountable, from business and private power players to political and government structures. There can be absolutely no denying the crushing effect that silence has on any democracy. It is demonstrated again and again the world over, and has been since the advent of this ideal that has always looked so pretty on paper but has come with so much pain in the attempts at its implementation thru ought history. We need to keep asking the hard questions and never stop until we are satisfied with the answer. In this instance questions like “Who authorised the use of live ammunition by the police?” should be asked continuously until we know. We should also not let those in power get away with creating individual scape goats and ‘fall guys’ in attempts to satisfy the civil society voices that continue to question. We should be holding entire institutions to account for their complicity, because that is one of the ways we will discover our own potential fault in letting this happen, and if we can isolate that in ourselves then we can start building our society at an individual level. Our leaders, and again not just in politics but in the private sector as well, need to be reminded of the character and quality of the people they lead so that they can define or redefine their own sense of humanity and compassion by connecting with us. If the police saw themselves in the sights of their weapons then I doubt a single shot would have been fired. We need to hold them constantly to account, to anchor them again in their own humanity.


Interview by Ts’eliso Monaheng. All images © Morrel Shilenge.

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