The ocean is our heartbeat: Q&A with Vainola Makan about her work with mining affected fishing communities on the West Coast of South Africa

As with many of the world’s last remaining wildernesses, the vast stretches of coastline along the West Coast of South Africa are under increasing pressure from mining. The region’s remote nature and sparse populations put it far from the view of the public eye.

We reached out to Vainola Makan with some questions about her film Tipping the Balance, which documents a collaborative research process and seeks to shed light on the impacts of mining on this region.

In the opening scene of your movie, Deborah De Wee, a local fishing activist points to the sea and says, “This is our life. This is where our heartbeat lies.” Why does the work you captured in your film matter to you?

Vainola: The work is important because it explores new methodologies of doing research in communities and explores where women’s participation in the research goes beyond being information and knowledge providers, but also co-creators of knowledge.

Picking up a camera and following this filmmaking process through to completion took time and energy. What made you decide to make this film?

Vainola: The film was created to amplify the voices of rural coastal and landless women about the impact or the risk of mining on their lives and to demonstrate the results of a co-created process of research.

What do you hope people will take from it? 

Vainola: Women need to be included in the decisions about processes that impact their lives and need to have platforms created to drive their own processes toward social, economic, environmental, and political justice in their communities including management and consultants regarding extractive industries.

What is the core message? 

Vainola: Rural women are able to competently engage in fact-finding processes around mining decisions in their communities and are able to use the research results to expand the quality of their lives. Therefore, they should be core stakeholders in consultation on development interventions. Their lives are fundamentally impacted as they carry the social, economic, environmental, and political burden on various areas in their lives, their communities as well as future generations. 

What was an interesting thing that happened while you were making the film? 

Vainola: While we were making the film, we changed the emphasis and title of the film three times. The reason for this is that women got used to the process of co-creation that we introduced in the research. So when we were doing the interviews, they had ongoing suggestions of how they wanted the film to represent their lives which we needed to be sensitive to. So the film took longer to make but it was a good example of the principle of co-creation which we all came to value about being part of the TESF project and could collectively own.

This post was written by Luke Meterlerkamp, Digital Weavers