Newsmaker - Primrose Sonti: A journey to Parliament

2014-05-18 15:00

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Nokulunga Primrose Sonti is leaving Wonderkop – not just because she’s about to become a parliamentarian for the Economic Freedom Fighters (EFF), but because for the past three years she’s been receiving death threats and she’s had enough.

Sonti moved to Wonderkop, Marikana, in 1995 and was happy both in North West and as a committed member of the ANC until 2011.

“I used to work so hard for [the ANC] here in Wonderkop. I helped at the community centre where people came with their disputes and problems and we would sort them out. Election time I was on the front line, giving my time and sleep,” the 53-year-old says.

We’re chatting in her two-room home in Wonderkop, neighbours popping in regularly to say hello and skinny dogs sleeping outside in the afternoon sun. Her phone rings nonstop – well- wishers from all corners, including the ANC.

Things fell apart when Sonti decided she would stand for the position of councillor for Marikana. “I don’t know how it happened but I know that the community voted for me. I had won the area but on the day I was going to sign at the mayor’s office I couldn’t.”

That was when the phone calls began.

A man and a woman called her at all times of the night, threatening to kill or hurt her. Her only child, a daughter, begged her to quit politics and focus on being an ordinary mother and grandmother.

She reported the matter to the police, quit the ANC and watched her political ambitions crumble.

Then Pauline Masutlhe was shot in the leg, allegedly by police, during an operation in Nkaneng informal settlement, Marikana. It was September 2012, less than a month after the massacre that rocked South Africa, and Masutlhe later died in hospital. Masutlhe was Sonti’s best friend.

The woman from Tsolo is used to tragedy. She used to cry every day because she hated her job as a clothing contractor in a mine near Mooinooi. Her short-lived marriage – she is not a miner’s widow, contrary to media reports – is another sore point. She refuses to talk about it.

“I used to cry every morning before I boiled water for my bath. I didn’t want to work there. The conditions were okay at first and the pay was great, but things changed. My heart bled every morning.”

During the strike that preceded the August 16 massacre, Sonti couldn’t work. There was no transport. A few weeks after 34 men were gunned down on the now notorious koppies, she quit her job.

“I was earning R3?000. I knew what the miners were fighting for, I knew their struggles. I was in the same place. After the massacre, I could not concentrate at work. I had flashbacks and I used to be so emotional. I knew I had to leave. I had to do something.

“These were young men I knew. Some of them had come to me for advice and we were building a community here together.”

Tears shine in her eyes. “One of the men died when his baby was only four days old. My heart bled for him. His wife Nandipha had to organise everything for her husband while carrying that bundle. It was the saddest thing I have ever seen.”

The massacre gave Sonti a new focus: she and other women in Wonderkop established Sikhala Sonke to unify the area’s women and try to forge a new, lasting peace.

She joined the EFF the day it was launched on one of the koppies in Marikana. She is on the party’s Parliamentary list and will be in the National Assembly when it is officially convened on Wednesday.

One of Sonti’s closest friends, a woman who just wants to be known as Bulelwa, stops by. She weeps, saying although MaPrimrose will be sorely missed, her friend has a greater calling.

Sonti didn’t finish school, but doesn’t believe this lack of formal education will stop her from making her time in Parliament count.

“I know I am nothing but I will do good in Parliament. Even without an education, I know what people on the ground go through every day. I went through that all my life.”

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