Marikana: ‘The government has forgotten us’

2014-08-17 15:00

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After two years, answers are still in short supply when it comes to the events of a bloody week in August that left 44 people dead. Xolani Mbanjwa sits down with some of those left in the wake of the Marikana massacre

The men and women who this week revealed their wounds at the Marikana Commission of Inquiry say more than their husbands, sons and brothers died on August 16 2012.

After the tragedy, mining company Lonmin paid for school uniforms and school fees for children whose fathers died during the unrest, but extended families who relied on the miners’ pay cheques were left stranded. Six months’ worth of groceries from the SA Social Security Agency, groceries in December from Lonmin and a R12?000 donation to each of the families from the “British” also helped – for a while.

The money’s gone but the pain hasn’t.

Anele Mdizeni’s family just wants someone to take responsibility for the 29-year-old’s death. Mdizeni’s older brother, Vuyisani, works for a mine

in Mpumalanga, but his family says he can’t cope with the responsibilities of caring for an extended family without Anele.

Luvo Phato remembers his older brother fondly.

“He took care of all of us. He paid for the school fees for three of his nephews without thinking twice because he loved providing for all of us.

“He was going to have a white wedding in December that year, but he wanted to finish his three-roomed house first. His house now stands empty, a constant reminder of what could have been. Lonmin pays for the schooling of his two children, but they’re doing nothing about the nephews he took care of.”

Phato is furious with Deputy President Cyril Ramaphosa, who testified at the commission this week. He wanted to know how the politician intended to “wipe away our tears”.

“We are not happy with Ramaphosa because we do not believe what he was saying. He washes his hands of his role in Marikana and we feel that was very misleading.”

Anele’s widow, Unathi, hasn’t been able to attend the commission. She’s too busy trying to keep the wolf from the door and support the couple’s two children and six nephews.

Mphumzeni Ngxande’s widow Nonkululeko says her neighbours in Ngqeleni in the Eastern Cape think she’s rich.

“We come and sleep in these hotels and eat hotel food when we’re attending the commission, and our neighbours back home think we are now well-off because we stay in hotels in Gauteng. But when we go back home during the breaks, there’s no room service. The food cabinets are empty. That’s when reality hits me again and again. I wish my husband had never worked for Lonmin.

“Lonmin only gives us groceries once in December and that is it. Nothing else. It is as if we are supposed to only eat in December. It is as if Lonmin and the government don’t know that children get sick, need clothing other than uniforms and general upkeep.”

She gets grants for her two children but there is no other money. Her children are in boarding school. Their fees and uniforms are paid for by Lonmin. She must find other clothes, toiletries, extra food – “basic things” – herself.

She describes her “soccer-mad” husband as a “quiet person who did not like wrongdoing”.

“That is why I don’t understand when police say they were defending themselves against criminals.”

It was a thunderous volley that lasted only seconds. Then the dust cleared and the horror was revealed. Poloko Tau remembers the moments after a massacre


A scene from a movie we never wanted to see 

We stood around, waiting for the prone men to jump to their feet like actors at the end of a successful take.

They didn’t move.

The police closed in on those still, slumped forms. Officers dragged some along the ground, put their boots against others and shook them. The men on the ground were searched for weapons. Police built a pile of sharp objects pulled from pockets.

I asked a colleague to zoom in on some of the pictures on his camera.

The horror jumped to life. One of the men on the ground was missing a large chunk of his head. Blood was trickling from others’ heads. They were never getting up again.

A group of furious journalists, professional masks slipping, turned on police officers standing nearby.

“You have just killed people! What have you people done? How could you?” I screamed.

They didn’t respond. They were pacing, swearing, sweat pouring down their faces. Some were coughing, screaming for water. They had misread the wind direction and a barrage of tear gas directed at the miners blew back into their faces.

Sporadic gunfire still sounded. I heard police officers screaming orders. Marikana was burning.

Three days earlier, an hour after I arrived in the North West town, two police officers and three miners were killed in a skirmish between strikers and cops.

Then four more died: two Lonmin security guards and two miners who’d apparently been ambushed on their way to work.

Amid the chaos, a group of journalists defied the police and Lonmin’s stern warnings. We went to the koppie populated by heavily armed striking miners and asked for interviews. Once we’d convinced them we weren’t cops, they agreed.

As we left, we discovered another body. Isaiah Twala, a National Union of Mineworkers shop steward, had been hacked to death. He was probably killed while we sat with the strikers on the other side of the koppie. – Poloko Tau is City Press’ Limpopo correspondent

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