‘Why did they do this to me?’

2012-02-25 16:43

Multiple victims of violence at Rustenburg’s mines speak out

Have no doubt, the old man is in excruciating pain. It seems even the act of trying to move his lips inflicts unspeakable agony on his frail body.

Scars resembling a world atlas cross his greying head, a missing eye and a disfigured, swollen face testify to his close encounter with death.

His crime?

“I was just going to work,” says the 62-year-old mineworker as he sits on his bed in a ward at the Impala Hospital in the platinum belt of Rustenburg.

All around him in the ward and in the one next door, scores of men lie in beds, hands and legs bandaged.
It is not a pleasant sight.

Some lay motionless, their eyelids having succumbed to sleep, a little comfort in a world of pain and suffering. Others stare into the nothingness of the white ceiling, their bodies there but their minds far away, wondering about the children and wives waiting for money to be sent home.

They are victims, just like the old man, of the violence that has gripped Rustenburg’s mines since 17?000 workers were dismissed by Implats for staging an illegal strike in early February.

They are regarded as amagudwane (rats) – those who kept working – and incurred the wrath of their striking colleagues.

While cycling to work at Shaft 7A one morning in early February, the old man was ambushed by a man wielding a knobkerrie.

He sent him flying off his bicycle with blows to the head. As he lay prostrate, his attacker smashed him several times in the face, breaking his jaws and shattering his teeth.

Another blow laid waste to his right eye, which doctors now say has been completely destroyed. Whatever remains of it will have to be surgically removed.

“I was not on strike,” says the old man who has worked at the mine since 1984.

“It breaks my heart,” he says, painfully slowly. “I did nothing wrong to anyone. Why did they do this to me?”
Impala Hospital has seen 52 casualties of the ongoing strike. Police say last weekend the body of a man, allegedly killed for refusing to join the strike, was found near Shaft 6.

Although preliminary findings reveal that the man was a worker from Bizana, Eastern Cape, his family has not formally identified the body.

Many have been injured and bands of looters have sent shopkeepers in the Freedom Park settlement into hiding.

Impala hospital medical manager Dr Johan Steenkamp says it’s the largest number of casualties he’s seen from a strike in more than 20 years.

On Wednesday, 18 people are still being treated there for injuries ranging from gunshot wounds, and blows to the head and body.

One is a 37-year-old man with a gunshot wound who doctors say is lucky to still have both limbs.

“When he came in, the leg was completely shattered,” says Dr Irene Mampa.

The man, who had gone home to the rural Eastern Cape, was on his way to his rented room when he came across a group of protesting mine workers.

“They said I should join the strike,” he says.

He tried to run, but as the mob ran towards him he saw dozens of police cars parked on the road. He was shot in the ensuing chaos.

“I want to return to work. I came here to work for my family and that’s what I want to do,” he says, although he may still lose his leg.

There is fear in the platinum fields. Workers, speaking on condition of anonymity, whisper their desire to return to work because their families, in villages across the country, are bearing the brunt of
the strike.

However, threats of assault, murder or having one’s belongings burnt force many to toe the line.

“Here you don’t just open your mouth. You must just listen to what the others say and do as they say, even if you don’t agree. The truth is we are tired of this strike.

“We want money, but what does it help to stay without work?” asks one.

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