Marikana D-Day: ‘My contact has just been shot dead’

2015-08-16 16:42
Mgcineni Noki, the ‘Man in the Green Blanket’, addresses striking Lonmin workers just hours before 34 miners were shot dead in clashes with police. Picture: Leon Sadiki/City Press

Mgcineni Noki, the ‘Man in the Green Blanket’, addresses striking Lonmin workers just hours before 34 miners were shot dead in clashes with police. Picture: Leon Sadiki/City Press

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August 16, 2012: After failed attempts to get striking miners to lay down their weapons, police decided to tighten their grip on Marikana where violence was veering out of control.

They vowed to end the strike and disperse strikers on this day three years ago.

An operation plan had been drawn and all units were readied to pounce on striking miners when the time arrived.

Journalists were informed by North West police commissioner Zukiswa Mbombo in a media briefing that the intention was to contain the situation that had already led to 10 deaths.

Police spokesperson, Captain Dennis Adriao, said they had accommodated striking miners for four days. “We now have to use force. Today is unfortunately D-Day,” he said.

At Nkaneng mountain miners continued singing, dancing and a few held placards with “R12 500” – which was their wage demand.

Two days earlier I gave out my business card to the strike leaders and they would often call me if they needed to address the media.

Around 1am, I received a call from one of the leaders who had a green blanket wrapped around his upper body. He wanted to meet behind a kraal about 100m from the mountain.

I asked a colleague to accompany me there and he also came with another man.

Amongst the media group there were two officers who were recording the miners whenever we went to the mountain for interviews. They had SABC tags around their necks.

The strike leaders wanted to know from us if they were indeed journalists. We told them they were journalists because they had SABC tags hanging from their necks but these men would not buy it.

“Go tell them to leave this mountain because we know they are police officers. Just ask them to leave before something bad happens,” they said.

I then went to Adriao and told him he should quickly remove the police cameramen from the mountain, which he did.

The strikers were also seemingly aware that police were planning to disperse them but their leaders vowed that they were not going to leave the mountain.

“We’d rather die here. We are ready to die than leave this mountain,” a strike leader said.

Just over an hour later police started approaching the mountain from almost all directions but most did not get too close. A while later barbed wire was erected in front of the mountain towards Nkaneng informal settlement.

Striking miners started leaving the mountain. I am still not sure what triggered it but suddenly while police were busy unrolling the barbed wire, shooting of teargas and stun grenades started and water canons were used. Chaos erupted with some miners running in all directions.

I was standing behind a heavily-armed line of mostly beret-clad tactical response team officers. Suddenly a group of men – who had been walking along the barbed wire as it was pulled out – could be seen overlapping it, moving around the kraal and straight towards the police line.

At this time the thunderous sound of shooting was heard. I immediately took to tweeting: “Auto guns creaking and cocked like 100 at a time, scary … warzone down here, first shot fired … journalist running, diving and hiding amid shots, water canon spewing water at the strikers”.

I remember standing right behind the shooting police officers as they pumped bullets at the charging group of miners. But in my mind I did not want to believe that they were using live ammunition although I noticed automatic rifles.

Amidst the dust, bodies were dropping like bags of potatoes from a moving truck as they were riddled with bullets. “Cease fire, cease fire!” one officer screamed repeatedly from the front.

It was difficult to differentiate dust from smoke. The biting smell of teargas was everywhere and even the police officers were coughing from it.

As soon as the dust settled, it became clear that the men on the ground were not moving except for two whose heads moved a little.

Police ran to the group on the floor and started removing weapons from them. Then among the motionless bodies, I noticed the green blanket. This is the man I spoke to about an hour ago.

“Is he dead?” I asked myself.

A photographer colleague zoomed in with his camera which clearly showed blood trickling from the men’s heads. At least one man had a large part of his skull blown off. I could feel the chill flowing down my spine.

“My contact has just been shot dead,” I tweeted.

All over the scene and some distance away, roaring engines of police Nyalas and other vehicles could be heard as they drove about after fleeing strikers. The sound of shooting had still not stopped. As I sat down writing my stories about 50m from the strikers’ bodies, the scene was still unfolding.

I sat down remembering the charismatic strike leader. I never got to know his name. I decided to call him “the man in the green blanket”, a descriptive tag that has stayed with him to this day.

At least 14 men were confirmed dead when we left Marikana that evening. We were only to discover the following day that more were killed at a second scene nearby, thus making it 34 the number of men killed on August 16 and a total of 44 people killed since the strike began seven days earlier.

» This article forms part of a Marikana diary, written by City Press journalists who covered the massacre. Click here to read his previous piece.

Read more on:    marikana  |  marikana anniversary

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