Marikana’s new killing fields

2017-10-08 05:47
Mine workers sing in Marikana during the commemoration of the fateful day when Lonmin workers embarked on an unprotected strike demanding a R12 500 wage increase. Picture: Felix Dlangamandla

Mine workers sing in Marikana during the commemoration of the fateful day when Lonmin workers embarked on an unprotected strike demanding a R12 500 wage increase. Picture: Felix Dlangamandla

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Two weeks before he was shot dead, Mveliso Biyela made a frantic call to a friend to tip him off about plans to have him assassinated.

He told S’thembele Mqunyana that his name was on a hit list, and that he would be the next to die.

Later that same day, Biyela called him again and told him to leave Marikana and the Rustenburg area immediately.

So Mqunyana quit his job as a health and safety officer at Lonmin, packed his bags, and fled home to Ntabankulu, Eastern Cape.

Barely two weeks after his departure, Mqunyana received the news on the evening of September 22 that Biyela had just been killed.

An unknown assailant had pumped him with bullets in full view of his wife and six-year-old daughter outside his home in Wonderkop, Marikana.

“It could have been me getting buried this weekend but he saved my life. He died in my place,” he said.

Mqunyana alleges he is one of about 16 miners whose names are on a list of mine workers earmarked for death, and who have been forced to resign and flee Marikana.

"Others like Biyela “did not see it coming”, he said.

At least five mine workers have been killed by “hired guns” in the past two months.

They were all members of the biggest union on the Rustenburg platinum belt, the Association of Mineworkers and Construction Union (Amcu).

One of the men who have remained behind in Nkaneng informal settlement in Marikana says his name is also on the list, but he remains behind because his family cannot afford for him to lose his job.

“Cracks have formed within Amcu and it is sad that they have been left to deepen. Blood has already started trickling but soon it will flow. Trouble is brewing and a serious bloodshed is coming,” he said.

The man, who asked not to be named, said relations between workers started souring when members of one Xhosa clan were purged from Amcu.

“Their sin was to expose the rot within the union and point out those responsible.

"They were paraded as bad apples and in the end suspended by the union while others from another clan were left and rewarded with positions.”

This led to conflicts between the two clans – the AmaBomvana and AmaMpondo. The latter have accused Amcu leader Joseph Mathunjwa of favouring the AmaBomvana.

Mqunyana said this was the start of Marikana’s most recent bloodshed. All the 16 men who have fled the area were AmaMpondo, he said.

Mqunyama said among those murdered before Biyela was Mzingisi Mzendana, who was shot in broad daylight in central Marikana on August 17, just a day after the commemoration of the deaths of 34 miners in the Marikana Massacre of 2012.

A respected leader of AmaMpondo on the platinum belt told City Press this week that a war was looming as more and more AmaMpondo men seek to leave Amcu and join the rival National Union of Mineworkers (NUM).

“Biyela had been told to leave Amcu. He was probably killed because he would not, but he could also possibly have paid with his life for staying on and giving tip-offs to our men, who were targets for assassination,” the leader said.

“AmaMpondo men have now regrouped here in Marikana and are ready to defend themselves. They don’t want to hear anything that has to do with Amcu.

"They feel disappointed with Mathunjwa for whom they have sacrificed a lot for his union to gain its majority status.

“Some of these men have killed people, done bad things to their colleagues to ensure Amcu grows. Others are now ready to spill the beans but want to be assured of their safety first.

"They live in fear of their lives, and many have already packed and returned home.”

Just like Amcu grew after its rival NUM bled members, the same fate could be awaiting the union famous for its green T-shirts.

With AmaMpondo now leaving Amcu, NUM is set to benefit. But it may not be easy for many to leave.

Six miners in the Rustenburg area this week told City Press that they wanted to leave Amcu but were too afraid.

NUM spokesperson Livhuwani Mammburu said they were not aware of an order for any clan to rejoin them.

“What I know is that many people want to return to NUM but they are scared for their lives. We can’t say to them just come and risk your lives,” he said.

“Amcu must democratise its environment. NUM members who went to Amcu were used to democracy and when they didn’t see any there, they are now shocked.”

Meanwhile, NUM has distanced itself from the ongoing killings.

“Amcu must stop blaming NUM. We have no time to kill workers. Law enforcement agencies must work hard and find the mastermind of these killings,” Mammburu said.

Mathunjwa did not respond to messages sent to him on Friday morning.

However, he has in recent months been outspoken on the killings, saying in a statement that he was wondering whether “a new campaign is being unleashed by the state and its allies” against Amcu.

He promised his union would fight back. “Our members will not be slaughtered like flies. We will fight back and we will fight hard.

“If it takes another five-month strike, if it takes the bringing of the country to its knees to get the authorities to arrest the situation and for mine management to take the safety of the workers seriously – so be it.

"Those behind these acts are playing with fire.

"Be assured Amcu will not fold its arms in the face of this systematic onslaught against us.”

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Read more on:    amcu  |  num  |  joseph mathunjwa  |  mining

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