I thought I was too of macho man to shed a tear, but yesterday, during my bed time prayer,I lost it. I actually growled with tears flooding down my cheeks. I still can't get my head around it: Women and girls raped as a form of protest, so I was told.
I started hearing this kind of stories when I arrived at one of the fiery blockades in Bapong where some of Bapo Ba Mogale Unemployed blocked a road. There, one of the ladies who were collecting money from cars that needed to go past their blockade, said that a white woman was dragged out of her car and raped somewher close to a bridge next to shaft2 of Lonmin Platinum mines. Something in her voice said she was glad about it. I tried not to let my emotions cloud my reasons for being there.
Having deeper knowledge of the plight of this community, I explained that the protest was fruitless since what we want is with us at the moment. What the protesters want is for government to come to Bapong and listen to our plight. The NW government has been in this Bapong community for more than a month now, but it seemed like it was the first time they heard of it when I told them.
The protests of Bapo Ba Mogale Unemployment Forum were sparked by Lonmin's disregard of its agreement with local community regarding employment and procurement. Almost 98% of Lonmin employees are not local residents. In the recent past, Lonmin was not fazed to bring a bus full of prospective employees from Eastern Cape while locals were denied opportunities. Contract in the mine are also given to people outside of this community.
There are talks going around that Lonmin deliberately denies locals opportunities because of its own generalised misconceptions. For an example it is said that Bapo community cannot last three months in employment. Lonmin seems to ignore the fact that it was its duty to train local on jobs that are appropriate.
For an example, with dedication, all management jobs could have been occupied by locals. Local people are more educated to work at the same level as a miner, for an example.
I state the above to show that protest were genuine in this regard, only if there was no response from government. The uneployment forum had two protest in the past, which they called round one and round two respectively. The current protest, called round three was proposed in 2011 when Lonmin failed to employ the number that they promised to employ.
Another aspect of the strike is lack of effective communication from Lonmin. First they told representatives of Bapo that the gave Bapo 500Million, during December they said the'y employ about 2500 people before Christmas and there are many who say the saw reports on Beeld newspaper to confirm all the above. But by January the nothing was accomplished.
By the time NW gvnt's chief Director started chairing meetings with various organisations (legal,illegal, known or unknown), including leaders of the protesters, the unemployed alredy gave Lonmin a dealine to comply with their promises. The Chief Director introduced himself, his mission which is the project of building the community.
He said that he will be in the community until May/June when proper leadership structures would be in place. He then asked priest to mediate and ward councillors to play oversifght in this project. Councillors became too busy to attend everyday and only three Priests were able to mediate.
The mistake came when priest started preaching peace in the midst of a revolutionry spirit of the unemployed group and also to meet the group without the Chief Director.This caused emotions to cloud the process and outburst led to conclusion that government does not care.
I must mention here that the Chief Director promised to support these groups and even go eith them to negotiations and (protest if need be). All they needed was to choose leaders who'll represent them. As I said, the problem was that priests were talking peace and to the group it meant givi-up on their fight even before confrontation. They refused to give a list of leaders to priests and the rest is history as they say.
But after I explained this story to those I met o Friday, one of them promised me that if what I said was true, they'll stop protesting as soon as Monay, the 20th Feb 2012. He is one of the most influenttial people in the group during protests and on the most wanted list of police regarding the current protests. He, however, was not part of the leadership that met with priest at Segwaelane Hall for elections.
I asked him to be part of leaders as of the said Monday and he agreed. Later police came and arrested some of those protesters, leaving me frustrated there as I tried to stop them from doing so. Police can be useless sometimes; arrests cannot help protesting communities. What police need is a proper training on serving the community. There is no way that communities, that include taxi owners, can allow unemployed people to hold a community ransom.
There are genuine reasons for people to allow protests to take place and police must learn to establish those reasons and mediate! Bapo Ba Mogale community have been protesting for almost a week, but all police do is come after a lot of vandalism and arrest whoever looks suspicious. For police service to work we no longer need armed reaction, but proactive policing.
Later I established that the guy I wanted to help in the stopping of the protest was able to ellude the police. When I got home I heard more reports of rape as a form of protest. It is shocking! I want to express my deepest sympathy to rape victims of this protest.
It must never happen again, that rape becomes some form of protest.
My advice to Bapo Ba Mogale Unemployment Forum is to stop the current protests and continue the project started by the Chief Director of Local Government and Traditional Affairs. The project is waiting and the protest simply extends its delay.
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