A tribute to a leader

2012-09-15 08:52

The Man in the Green Blanket had a name, a family and conviction

As it turns out, The Man in the Green Blanket, who was mowed down by the police in Marikana, had a name: Mgcineni “Mambush” Noki.

He was a 34-year-old married father from Mqanduli in Eastern Cape.

But it was not just the colour of his blanket that made Mgcineni stand out.

He appeared tall, dignified, confident and regal in demeanour. It is reported that he was “the loudest leader and never needed a loudhailer to address the crowd”.

People say: “He didn’t speak for himself. He spoke for the workers.” His family remember him as a natural leader who
never shirked responsibility.

If Andries Tatane was the hero of the masses who lacked service delivery, then Mgcineni Noki represents the legions of
exploited workers.

I don’t know any African child whose ambition is to become a rock-drill operator. As Dr Mcebisi Ndletyana has observed: “Mine employment is a necessity forced upon Africans by loss of land.” Mining is a dangerous business.

For eight long hours, Mgcineni and his colleagues would drill for precious platinum 3km down in the dark belly of the Earth, in temperatures exceeding 40° C.

Respiratory diseases and hands which tremble result, and a monthly medical allowance would not be sufficient to heal the ills that come with the job.

After a day of hard labour, miners would retreat to their shacks, hovels really, which they share with their wives and children. The living conditions of miners, as are their working conditions, have been described as appalling and dehumanising.

It is little wonder the miners of Marikana said they were prepared to die to earn a living wage.

While we await the outcome of the commission of inquiry into the Marikana massacre, one thing is crystal clear, and that is the absence and failure of leadership all round. It is this void the Man in the Green Blanket sought to fill.

It now has transpired that the union bosses were taken by surprise, which shows they were completely out of touch with the people they were supposed to represent.

That the workers were prepared to negotiate on their own behalf was a vote of no confidence in the union leaders.

What was the leadership of the National Union of Mineworkers (NUM) preoccupied with, other than the amelioration of the ­
living and working conditions of the miners?

We now know the NUM is the richest Cosatu affiliate, invested in various businesses, with highly paid office-bearers. This is the same union, led by one Senzeni Zokwana, that was ready to bare his revolutionary penis in protest against The Spear portrait.

Politics and leadership battles took precedence over workers’ rights. It took a trip to Canada – no doubt not in economy class – for president Senzeni Zokwana to understand that rock-drill operators in South Africa ­were underpaid!

Before this great discovery, the miners’ strike was caused by, in apartheid-speak, “other forces”.

The miners really had no reason to strike, seemed to be the reasoning. Union rivalry was another reason proffered.

One sage ANC politician put the violence down to muti, which resulted in the miners being in a trance. No siree, it is the ANC leadership that appears to be in a trance. Under the custodianship of the new ANC, African police, security guards and miners were butchered like beasts.

This tragedy is the climax of an ANC that has lost its way from the caring, serving, selfless and educated ANC of old. We now have a leadership, dare I say a “new breed”, that oversees whole-scale corruption and the looting of state coffers. In this so-sorry state, the ANC has authored its own Sharpeville.

From Cosatu, one would have expected a more vocal condemnation of the massacre and an admission of its failure to truly represent workers’ rights.

But what about the so-called workers’ party, the SACP? Where was the two-man show of Blade Nzimande and Buti Manamela?

Their silence before and after the massacre was in sharp contrast to the strident noises to which we have become accustomed.

With their silence they ensured continued largesse from the ANC and Cosatu. The leadership ­shall eat!

It is reported that tensions in Marikana had been simmering since March. Lonmin management stubbornly refused to engage the workers in the absence of management’s sweetheart union, the NUM.

Not even a simple symbolic counter-offer for the R12 500 demand was made by Lonmin. That Lonmin management were indifferent to the living and working conditions of the miners is now perfectly clear.

When they should have shown some leadership, a spokesperson for Lonmin was unavailable to state the company’s position, reportedly because he was traumatised and needed counselling.

And what of big business? Not much from them either except hushed, unconvincing statements about the 10% margins Lonmin operates off.

And black business? The president of the Black Business Council (BBC) was quoted in a Sunday paper, speaking of himself in the third person, as saying Marikana would not have happened “if they had called Patrice Motsepe, Cyril Ramaphosa and Ndaba Ntsele”. Duh!

And then came the real clanger, as if to add insult to injury: the National Prosecuting Authority bizarrely charged 157 miners with the murder of their colleagues! That hair-brained action surely sealed our status as the laughing stock of the world.

Other than a commission of inquiry and the declaration of a week of national mourning, nobody came out and said: “We are sorry, this is how we are going to fix things.”

What are the lessons learnt from this tragedy? For investors in mining, the question of how well a company treats its workers should always be uppermost in their minds, for the long-term sustainability of the company.

Business formations such as Busa, the BBC and Business Leadership South Africa should endeavour to establish acceptable returns on their investment which are not based on greed.

Our police service will need to be nurtured, demilitarised, and better trained and paid.

We need to create an environment where protests do not become violent and ensure that we are all subject to the rule of law.

We need to create a caring society, acutely aware of the vast disparities in equality, and the pervasive poverty that stalks us as a nation. Finally, we need to choose our leaders carefully.

Mgcineni was buried this past weekend.

Rest in peace, Mgcineni!

» Peter Vundla is a concerned South African citizen

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