August 16th 2015 marked the third anniversary of the Marikana massacre in South Africa, a day of remembrance in honour of the striking miners that lost their lives through lethal force by South African security forces. It was an incident that reverberated worldwide, a black mark on South Africa’s progress as a democracy and a tragic consequence of the country’s increasingly rampant inequality.
On the anniversary this year, three years on with still no justice for the victims of the massacre, a group of anonymous artists under the banner of Tokolos Stencil Collective claimed responsibility for a series of graffiti and stencil statements on the campus of the University of Cape Town (UCT), indicting the University for its complicity in the massacre.
The statements, such as ‘#RememberMarikana’, ‘non-poor only’, and ‘Max Price [UCT’s vice-chancellor] For Black Lives’, were framed as a form of protest against UCT’s investment in Lonmin, the mining company that owned the mine at which the massacre took place. Furthermore, it raised attention to the fact that judge Ian Farlam sits on the UCT Council while heading up the Marikana commission, the committee tasked with the official inquiry into the killings. His position and UCT’s investments are seen as a direct conflict of interest.
The University were quick to condemn the graffiti as an “irresponsible and inappropriate method of protest,” and many of the statements were removed within a week.
However, this was not enough to quell the discontent among the students. Despite the condemnation and removal, the graffiti exposed UCT’s investments in Lonmin and, as such, their association with South Africa’s darkest post-apartheid day.
Graffiti, in this manner, constitutes an appropriate and effective form of art and of protest. It is a tool through which the Tokolos Stencil Collective were able to express their right to freedom of expression and represent the dissatisfaction of the students with the actions of the University.