The Shore Break
A petulant feeling about a lost holiday spot, resulted in a documentary film about the conflicting views of two cousins on development, led to an international campaign uncovering the primary shareholder in an Australian mining company. Such is the charmed power of documentary filmmaking.
When I started working on The Shore Break, I soon realized that the potential impact of an Australian mining company’s intentness on mining titanium on South Africa’s magnificent Wild Coast would go way beyond the loss of future family vacations. MRC’s efforts to mine would not only threaten an endemic hotspot, but would also throw into stark relief the binaries of development: all/nothing; maximum profit/sustainability; mining operations/eco tourism; good/bad; etc.
What I did not know then, was that when the responses started coming in from the first audiences in different countries, I would feel compelled to step away from the camera and engage in direct action. I did the first thing that could be done without money, and that’s a petition (with the Centre for Civil Society at the University of Kwazulu-Natal, Durban). The petition was simple: it asked shareholders in MRC if it knew what its company was up to in this remote part of South Africa.
Now I know that a successful petition needs time and money. Once Kindle came on board, its grant bought some time to push the petition. What happened after that, I did not expect at all. I found myself as the instigator and coordinator of a global campaign to get the petition to MRC’s shareholders in Perth, Australia at its AGM. The catch was: MRC was keeping the date confidential or unpublished. Working against an unknown deadline, also sadly coincided with the unexpected cold-blooded assassination of the leader of the anti-mining group, Sikhosiphi Bazooka Rhadebe. His murder did much to focus the eyes of activists on the identity of MRC and the people who drive it.
To get the petition to the right people I worked with a researcher in Texas and environmental activists in Australia. They in turn worked with others. And we all took our mandate from the Amadiba Crisis Committee, the anti-mining group.
It was like a global drama story, only it’s real. MRC denied any involvement in the late Rhadebe’s assassination, but this denial made activists even keener to find out who controls MRC. Some material unearthed by one source, led to bits of information uncovered elsewhere. Digging for evidence led to a surprise find – MRC’s major shareholder is a British multi-millionaire, Graham Edwards, who flies under the radar. Edwards is also the CEO of one of the UK’s largest property companies, a board member of several prominent charities, and highly sensitive to his public image. His name does not appear on any of MRC’s public records.
The petition had a target! A march to South Africa’s Parliament in Cape Town linked with the concerned citizens who picketed outside Edwards’ offices in London. On 23 May 2016 the activities culminated in a demonstration at MRC’s AGM in Perth. Edwards decided not to attend, but a minority shareholder, armed with the petition and some challenging questions, did. Unsurprisingly he was forcibly evicted from the meeting. However, the knowledge was public and it was picked up by Andy Higginbottom, Kingston University associate professor, who published a string of articles, populated with further research.
My first unintended participation in a global campaign was exhilarating, exhausting but definitely worthwhile. MRC claims the proposed titanium mine will result in much-needed jobs and better infrastructure, but the community itself wants sustainable development, not a short-term project that will destroy their homes, farms, and water supply. Even after the death of Sikhosiphi Rhadebe, they are standing resolute — as one woman put it: “My tears won’t fall on the ground for nothing. You can bring your machine guns. I am prepared to die for my land, I am not going anywhere.”
Ryley Grunenwald is the director, DOP and co-producer of the multi-awardwinning documentary film, The Shore Break, a recipient of a Kindle Project grant. At the time of making the documentary Ryley lived in Johannesburg, South Africa, and currently lives in France.