Isolesizwe Film Festival provides valuable insights
By Sheila Berry
The Isolesizwe Film Festival, a festive affair, took place on Sunday, 28 February 2016, at the AmaWeliseli Church in Ocilwane. This small rural village overlooks the iMfolozi Wilderness Area to the north and the Somkhele coal mine 10kms to the east. The wind was gusting and in the distance clouds of black dust could be seen swirling over the Somkhele villages.
“Imagine the Ibutho Coal mine in our village when the wind blows like today,” commented a resident from Ocilwane. “Already we hear and feel the blasting from the Somkhele mine. We are farmers not miners. We want to keep our land to feed our families and to farm cattle, sheep and goats – not to breathe dust from the mine and become sick and sick like the affected Somkhele village.”
Isolesizwe means the Eye of the Nation, and Lebo Ngobeni (Masuku) who pushed for the name Isolesizwe Film Festival wants the whole nation to see what the Somkhele and Fuleni communities are going through. “I want the world to know and see what is happening here and in other parts of South Africa and all over the world …. how people are affected by mines and really suffer. Living next to a mine is not a life anyone should be made to live.”
A group of dynamic young members of the Mfolozi Community Environmental Justice Organisation (MCEJO) enthusiastically took on the challenging task of organizing the Isolesizwe Film Festival. They are involved in a campaign to clean litter and waster in the area that is not only unsightly but poses health hazards for people and livestock.
About 60 people attended the Isolesizwe Film Festival, most of the audience coming from the seven Fuleni villages already affected by Ibutho Coal’s proposed coal mine. In the words of activist Sifiso Dladla, who has worked with the Somkhele and Fuleni communities since 2011: “When a mine moves into an area, it rips the community and families apart long before any machine arrives.”
Sabelo Dladla from Somkhele also attended the Isolesizwe Film Festival. His father was the highly respected activist, Mr Gednezar Dladla, who passed away last October (2015). Sabelo and his brother, Thuba, are proud to be following in their father’s footsteps. “My father stood for justice, fairness and respect and our whole family values these qualities,” said Sabelo, a second year Ecotourism student at Durban University Technikon, in Pietermaritzburg. He and his brother, mother and father all feature in Sphiwe Mazibuko’s film premiered at the festival.
Other visitors included people from Durban, Pietermaritzburg, Howick and the Eastern Cape, and as far afield as England and Germany.
Several of the films served to remind the audience of their Zulu culture with its close ties to traditional seeds and indigenous livestock, Nguni cattle and sheep that are adapted to the area and far more resilient to drought and climate change than commercial seeds or foreign breeds. A Gaia Foundation film Seeds of Sovereignty provided examples from other drought stressed areas in Africa, like Ethiopia, to illustrate the vital importance of sustainable human scale farming practices and re-introducing traditional seed crops like robust teff, sorghum and millet, instead of maize.
Robby Mokgalaka, who heads groundWork’s Coal Campaign, and works extensively in the coal fields of Mpumalanga, spoke about the devastating impacts of coal mining on people’s quality of life, health, access to clean water, and security. He spoke about the serious environmental impacts that affect the climate as a result of mining fossil fuels and the damage caused by our reliance on coal, oil and gas for our energy instead of renewables, particularly solar. He showed groundWork’s film Bliss of Ignorance to illustrate the tragic plight and suffering endured by people in Mpumalanga who are surrounded by coal mines. The audience was deeply moved by the film and the heartfelt input from Robby Mokgalaka. This contributed to making the Isolesizwe Film Festival a powerful informative event.
The Pietermaritzburg filmmaker, Sphiwe Mazibuko of Duzi Productions, was the festival’s special guest. His short documentary “UnderMining Life: Activists threatened in South Africa” was premiered at the festival. Sphiwe Mazibuko wanted the first public screening of his film to take place in Fuleni because several of the activists he interviewed come from Fuleni and Somkhele. Sphiwe views the Isolesizwe Film Festival as a great initiative by the Mupo Foundation to educate people about the dangers of mines through short films.
More about the film Undermining Life: Activists threatened in South Africa
Community activists in South Africa are intimidated and persecuted for opposing mining. Some have paid with their lives. The film tells the stories of courage, hope and struggle of brave men and women from Zululand and the Wild Coast (Xolobeni) who continue to risk everything to defend their land, homes and livelihoods from invading mining companies.
Billy Mnqondo, one of the activists in the film whose life was threatened because of his strong opposition to the Ibutho Coal mine, sees the film festival as very significant because it has shown people from Fuleni what is going on at home and elsewhere in the world. It left him feeling very sad because the films made him aware of how things had been in the past. “What I saw reminded me of our land as it was before. What will we be leaving for future generations if we carry on with mining? In the past we were able to feed ourselves from our land but now we have to rely on shops. Climate change is going to make it bad for people whose land has been stolen from them by mining.”
Undoubtedly a lot more will be heard about the Isolesizwe Film Festival. Sphiwe Mazibuko spoke on behalf of many people in the audience when he concluded: “I will be happy if the film festival can happen annually and tour to places affected by mines in KZN and other provinces.”
Lebo Ngobeni (Masuku) wants to take the Isolesizwe Film Festival into the schools. “We owe it to the next generation to educate them about the future. They are the ones who will live with a polluting coal mine. They must see what will happen and be included in the decision and the struggle. We must stand together with people across the world to say Yes to Life and No to Mining.”
“You must know one thing: the land doesn’t finish but the money does.” Nonhle Mbuthuma, Xolobeni