When the light fades from children’s eyes

2012-09-22 11:57

I know the grisly stench of violent death. I sat at the back of a van holding my uncle’s cold hand pretending he was still alive while his young daughter cradled his head in her lap quietly talking to him, willing him to be alive.

Eventually, at the hospital, we lifted him onto a stretcher and the doctor confirmed what I already knew.

My mother’s brother, my uncle, was dead.

He had been gunned down, you see. His teenage daughter had watched it happen from the passenger seat right next to him.

Nameless faces had pulled up alongside his vehicle when he halted for them to drive past on the thin track of a rural pass in Lusikisiki.

They shot him, took what they could, and drove into the night. Seven years later, we don’t know who they are. The police have
forgotten.

We can’t forget.

But I do not want a police state.

Watching other men die on the hills of Marikana brought up the familiar taste of bile in my mouth.

I, like other South Africans, watched a horror unfold that day. Much has been written about it.

Living abroad for a while, I relive this pain as I am repeatedly called to account for what “we” did to black miners.

My answers reflect the incoherence in my head.

An old African-American man that I met by chance along with his Tanzanian wife, when they realised I was South African, asked me this question with acute pain.

The South African experience is theirs too.

They had lived with many South African exiles.

Some of these exiles are now among the political and economic elite.

The invisible command that said “pull your triggers” was my complicity and, by extension, our collective complicity in the
Marikana massacre.

It was etched in the old man’s eyes and I could not hold his tortured gaze.

The complicity diffuses from Lonmin’s London headquarters, Dr Mamphela Ramphele, Cyril Ramaphosa, Zwelinzima Vavi, the National Union of Mineworkers’ leadership led by Frans Baleni, the Association of Mineworkers and Construction Union, President Jacob Zuma, his ANC executive committee and “broad church”,Julius Malema, you and me.

We watched as our police force was militarised.

Commissioners became generals, and live ammunition replaced water cannons.

I listened to a leading African scholar tell a full house of Harvard academics that through its military police arm, the South African state has been on a long road towards killing civilians.

Unlike the cold-blooded murder of Andries Tatane, many do not make the news. Camera crews trail our president while bullets fly.

Africanist musician Simphiwe Dana has warned that we are in a state of emergency reminiscent of PW Botha’s time.

We need to arrest the rot.

Ever interested in South Africa, scholars in the diaspora are sharpening their pens to once more write about the skunk of the world.

Marikana gives them a brilliant case study.

Afro-pessimists and racists rub their hands gleefully. If we cannot hear the wails of the widows and children of the miners, we will become immune to everything.

This kind of immunity signals our death.

We become mere robots.

Hugh Masekela’s Stimela song, which spoke so eloquently of the burden of the miners extracting gold for the white man, needs to be updated. Miners in 2012 are also extracting gold for capital and some prominent black people have their snouts deep in the trough.

Miners are correct to be outraged. This was not the promise bequeathed to them by the Freedom Charter.

People should come before investments.

Our economy needs total recalibration that centres on people and, if this upsets investors, well, to hell with them.

The quiet pain and the haunted eyes that have become a part of my late uncle’s child’s demeanour began on the day her father was gunned down a mere breath from her.

The hills of Marikana and valleys of Lusikisiki, where many of the miners are from, know a similar pain.

The joy in the children’s eyes has been extinguished. They cannot expect a visit from their fathers this Christmas.

»Canham is a student at Harvard University



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