Fear stalks Marikana

2012-10-27 12:22

He was made to kneel on his knees and elbows. As he crouched on the ground pleading for his life, a deadly blow from a panga landed on the back of his head.

He died, his body abandoned right there in the dust, left to the men who have been collecting bodies in Marikana since a violent strike by mine workers began on August 9.

It was September 11 and the deadly blow from the panga made the man victim number 45 of the strike.

He was 51-year-old rock-drill operator and National Union of Mineworkers (NUM) shop steward Dumisani Mthinti.

Weeks earlier, on August 14, another man had suffered a similar fate not far from this site on the edges of Nkaneng informal settlement.

He was victim number 10.

This one was struck with a panga on the side of his head.

As he fell to the ground dying, a sharpened steel rod was shoved up his anus into his stomach.

His body was dumped on a footpath near a koppie where thousands of striking mine workers were gathered.

This is how, according to City Press sources, those viewed as opponents of the strike were dealt with and how fear was instilled into those who harboured any plans of going against the strike.

When a group of us journalists saw the body around 4pm that afternoon, people, including school children, threw frightened glances at the man’s body as they walked hastily past.

Someone, for reasons yet unknown, had placed the dry skull of a cow on his chest.

It was the height of rising tensions and even fearful journalists covering the strike treaded carefully.

A day later, after tracing the family of victim number 10, his son, also a mine worker, made it clear during a brief telephone conversation that he was not prepared to speak to the media about his father’s murder.

It was the season of fear, death and suspicion.

Such was the situation in Marikana at the time that journalists were treated with suspicion by the strikers.

Journalists in turn treated the strikers with caution and, seemingly with memories of the executions still fresh, some of the strikers feared their colleagues.

In the five days before the killing of victim number 10, two policemen and two security guards, and five other civilians, apparently mine workers, had also met their violent deaths in the area.

Police had warned that the strikers were armed, dangerous and unpredictable, and they advised journalists to exercise caution.

As journalists were taking pictures of victim number 10, they were met with roars of disapproval from the men at the top of the koppie.

They made a hasty retreat towards the relative safety of the open area near Wonderkop stadium, a kilometre or so away.

There, they came across a strong police contingent in different types of armoured cars, including hippos and Nyalas moving into the area.

It was clear tensions were on the boil, yet even then we did not anticipate that two days later the police would open fire, leaving 34 people dead.

On a swelteringly hot Monday afternoon, October 1, Judge Ian Farlam visited the koppie as part of the in loco inspection of the Marikana Commission of Inquiry, which was set up by President Jacob Zuma to probe the 46 deaths that occurred during the strike.

The following day, Tuesday, the in loco inspection continued at the sight of earlier clashes near the Wonderkop hostel.

Daluvuyo Bongo, a secretary of the Lonmin Western Platinum Branch of the NUM, took commission chairperson Judge Farlam, an entourage of journalists, lawyers and curious members of the public on a journey through the events of August 11, when a group of mine workers marched on the NUM offices.

Bongo explained how the marchers moved in the direction of the small, red brick office situated behind the Wonderkop hostel.

A number of people in the office, including Bongo, fearing for their safety, fled the office into the dusty street nearby.

Shots were fired, apparently from the direction of the NUM offices, leaving two people dead.

Bongo was scheduled to testify before the commission at the Rustenburg Convention Centre.

But on October 5, as dusk fell, he was shot dead at his residence at the Wonderkop hostel, not far from where he had pointed out scenes of violence to the commission three days earlier.

Police have arrested Zenzile Nxenge and Siyakhale Kwazile in connection with his death. They have been remanded in police custody.

Bongo’s death and the arrest this week of four miners who are set to testify against the police at the commission, have once again heightened fears in the area.

NUM lawyer Karel Tip said in his opening statement to the commission this week that “its proceedings take place in the context of ongoing volatility and tension”.

Tip said Bongo was consulted on a number of occasions on matters relevant to the issues requiring investigation by the commission.

“It was envisaged that he would be a material witness and that his testimony would in due course not only have been of assistance to the commission, but would also have advanced the NUM’s capacity to present evidence as to its role in the events under examination,” said Tip.

He said it was as a result of these consultations that Bongo attended the commission’s in loco inspection.

Tip said although the NUM “does not at this stage have a conclusive understanding of the event, it would appear to be at least a plausible inference that this was a deliberate and targeted killing. That is how it is being interpreted by officials and members of the NUM.”

He said continued attacks on the union’s members in the areas have resulted in many of its officials leaving their residences in fear.

“These events have sharply exacerbated the reluctance of NUM members and others to assume the role of being witnesses before the commission.

That reluctance was present from the beginning of our preparatory work on the pertinent incidents.

It was at no time indicative of any unwillingness to assist the commission, but had its source solely in concerns about personal safety.”

Just a few hours after Tip had made his submission to the commission, police travelling in an armoured vehicle pounced on a minibus carrying mine workers who had played a leading role during the strike.

The miners, wearing black T-shirts with a message paying tribute to the slain 34 miners shot by police, had attended the day’s proceedings at the commission.

They are set to testify against the police as the commission unfolds, a matter which the Socio-Economic Rights Institute of SA (Serisa) says could be the underlying reason for their arrest.

Serisa, which is working with Advocate Dali Mpofu to represent the 78 people injured and the 278 arrested on August 16, said after they were arrested, “hoods were placed over their heads and they were told not to speak, or they would be shot”.

The four men – Zamikhaya Ndude, Sithembele Sohadi, Loyiso Mtsheketshe and Anele Kola – appeared in court on Friday to face charges of murder.

During a meeting with one of the leaders of the strike in a spaza shop in Wonderkop recently, he painted a picture of a life lived looking over one’s shoulder.

“There are strange cars following people. You don’t know who is who.

“People don’t trust one another any more.”

Fear, it seems, still rules here, and with more arrests apparently still to follow, and the commission set to uncover the truth of what really happened, it looks like it will be long before normality returns to Marikana.

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