Marikana: One year on

2013-08-18 14:00

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This time last year, the nation was in shock after what happened in Marikana. Now those affected are picking up the pieces. Athandiwe Saba reports

Four green buses pass the Karee mine ferrying miners home after their morning shift.

A smiling Xolani Nzuza approaches, wearing a black T-shirt, smart denims and his favourite red Carvela shoes.

He was a leader of 3 000 miners who went on strike a year ago, of which 34 were gunned down by police.

Nzuza (29), a rock drill operator, was the second-in-command to Mgcineni “Mambush” Noki, the Man in the Green Blanket.

He emerges from the management office outside the notorious K3 shaft, near the koppie where his comrades lost their lives, where he signs in every day. He has been booked off work until the end of the Marikana Commission of Inquiry, before which he is still to testify.

A few minutes later, we stand together at the base of the koppie, looking into the distance. He says he doesn’t like standing on the dusty, cracked earth where they camped during the strike. Sporadic gusts of wind whisk up the dust, and his expressions change as though the wind brings back terrible memories.

“Andithandi ukuba apha kulendawo, ngoba andiziva righti. Ndicinga ukuba kulaapho ndaphantse nda ... (I don’t like being here, it reminds me of the day I nearly ... ),” he says.

His sentence trails off with his thoughts. But not for long.

Nzuza speaks of the men who died on that soil, saying what they protested for had not come to pass.

He speaks frankly of the reasons himself and 3 000 others sat on the koppie for days, demanding a monthly package of R12 500.

“The people who died here know that what we wanted we haven’t received. That’s why I’m not happy about this place,” says Nzuza.

His brother works on the same mine and his father works at nearby Amplats.

He says that shortly before the shooting, the police told the miners assembled on the koppie that they were simply trying to build good relations.

“After that they just told us that they have nothing else to say to us. It had been decided,” he says.

A short while later, police formed a line of armoured vehicles between the miners on the koppie and the informal settlement of Nkaneng. They then erected a barricade of barbed wire in front of their armoured vehicles, and a group of miners began to advance.

Just after 4pm that August 16, police opened fire.

Nzuza, who was in a lookout position on top of the koppie, takes a deep breath before he relives the moment he saw the “cloud rise”.

He says: “I saw how the men fell close to the kraal. I knew Mambush had been shot. I was shocked because I never thought they would actually kill us,” he said.

He fled to the second koppie, where police continued to pursue and shoot at the miners. He still cannot remember how he made it there alive because the area was swarming with police in attack mode.

“I ran up the face of the koppie. I wanted the police to shoot me in full view of everyone, so everyone could see what they were doing.”

As he crested the hill, he saw his comrades hiding in bushes, and behind trees and rocks, hoping the advancing police wouldn’t spot them.

His survival instinct kicked in and he swapped his green and brown jersey with another miner.

“The men said that the police had marked me by the jersey I was wearing,” he said.

A short while later, the man wearing his jersey was shot.

Nzuza managed to flee to Nkaneng with his friend Silungile Mayezana, who we met later that evening in his shack.

He sat rocking on a wooden bench, carving grooves into his plastic floor mat. Mayezana and his brother were on the front line with Mambush.

His brother lived, but Mayezana remains too disturbed by what happened to speak about him, clapping his hands to indicate that our conversation can go no further with talk of his brother. Nzuza lives a few minutes away from Mayezana and a few hundred metres from the shaft.

We enter his bright-silver corrugated iron shack, gleaming in the sun. The light shines through its red curtains and casts a warm glow in the tiny living space.

Music flows into the hot, stuffy shack from one of the many other shacks in the yard he shares.

He opens a window and settles on his bed, his feet dangling off it.

Nzuza speaks easily of Mambush in the days before the strike.

They met at a soccer practice, a sport they both loved. They won matches together until a knee injury forced him to quit.

But when he speaks of the day his leader and friend was gunned down, his expression drops and his eyes shift away.

He went back to the koppie to look for him. Some said Mambush had only been shot in the leg, others said he was taken in a police van. Yet more said their leader was still alive and could not die.

Nzuza combed lists of names from the mortuary, hospitals and police stations but Mambush’s name didn’t appear for days.

When he finally came across it on the mortuary list, Nzuza felt his spirit shift.

“Yayingumntu endandi hamba naye phambile lo (This was the man with whom I stood in the front),” he says.

Many miners attended the respected leader’s funeral but Nzuza didn’t. Instead, he decided to participate in a ceremony for another slain comrade, 23-year-old David Saphendu, held at the same time, because too few were going.

He later went to Mambush’s home to pay his respects. He left behind the T-shirts they had printed bearing the slain leader’s image because he didn’t want to bring back the hurt and the pain.

On his way home, he resolved to go back and carry on as though the whole ordeal was just a dream. He decided to put it behind him.

But others cannot, like rock drill operator Bangile Mpotye, who was shot in the leg.

“I didn’t know what a bullet felt like until that day ... I wanted to die because the others were dead,” he says, adding there’s not much they can show for the lives lost that day.

As he picks dead grass from crevices on the koppie, Mpotye speaks of his children, whom he is desperately trying to educate. He wants them to escape his destiny.

“I don’t want my children to live by the shovel. I want them to live by the pen,” he says.

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