Marikana aftermath – Shoes tell no tales

2012-08-25 17:40

It is not known to whom it belongs. It may never be known.

The owner might be among the 34 who died.

Perhaps he’s among the 78 injured?

Or he’s among the 275 who were ­arrested.

There is a chance he might be among the thousands of men who escaped last week’s mayhem on this very hill near Marikana, unscathed.

Was he one of the young, militant men who vowed never to leave the hill until the demand for a monthly salary of R12 500 was met?
Even this, we don’t know, and may never know.

Was he, perhaps, an old man, one of those old men I saw among the strikers – the grey-haired ones with a distant, resigned look in their eyes? I remember some of their faces clearly.

They sat there, passive, almost, not raising their clenched fists in defiance when speakers addressing them roared “Amaaaaandla!”

When the younger of the strikers rose to sing about how they hated the leader of a certain union and how they wished to kill him, the old men simply sat there, perhaps thinking of the loved ones they had left behind in distant lands.

On Wednesday morning, I ascended the hill near the Nkaneng informal settlement. Until around 4pm last week, the hill had been the base of the approximately 3 000 striking miners, who had gathered there daily since going on strike on August 10.

There they sang, spoke about their demands for the R12 500 monthly salary and how they would never leave the hill until their employer, Lonmin, came to address them.

Some, we were told, underwent ­sacred rituals on this hilltop, similar to those undertaken by warriors when preparing for battle in a bygone era.

I was struck, at first, that even by Wednesday, almost a week after people had died here, there was not a single flower, a wreath, or just something small, paying tribute to the fallen.

Instead, in the flat, open field around the hill and on its edges, in the dry grass and black, thick soil, lay shocking evidence of last week’s events.

Among the rocks around the hill and in the dry grass, I saw blankets, the traditional gear of Basotho men, gathering dust alongside other clothing items: bloodied shirts, torn trousers, a pair of flip flops, surgical gloves and needles.

Somewhere in the grass near the ­cattle kraal where most of the men were shot, I saw a twisted green and red string, similar to the ones often worn by members of a certain religious sect around the waist to protect them against evil.

In the black soil, I saw ants thriving in dark spots, dried pools of blood from the wounds of the men who were shot.

Walking down the hill, I saw a black pair of men’s shoes.

They were huddled together, their toes facing in a northeasterly direction towards Nkaneng. Who put them there, when and how, we may never know.

The shoes were so old and battered, and the heels were finished on the sides, as if someone had used a sharp knife to slice them off.

The nails keeping the heels to the shoes protrude upwards.

The owner must have had trouble with blisters.

While I was rattled by watching men being mowed down with automatic gunfire, it is simple things like this pair of shoes that haunt me.

They remain a reminder of the difficult life faced by these men, some of whom say they have to survive on a salary of R4 000 a month – although the figure was disputed by Lonmin this week.

Looking at the pair of shoes, I wondered which man, who can afford a good pair, would wear such shoes? Were things so bad, so tough for this man, that such a basic thing as a better pair of shoes had become a luxury?

Why could he not afford to buy proper shoes?

Or did he choose to wear this pair in case there was trouble and he had to abandon them, like now?

We may never know.

At sunset on Thursday afternoon, a boisterous group of striking workers wearing the green T-shirts of the Association of Mineworkers and Construction Union (Amcu), supported by colleagues from Impala Platinum, ascended the hill after a day-long memorial service on the edges of the informal settlement.

Julius Malema, with bodyguards and photographers in tow, followed suit to join the men on the hilltop.

Somewhere at the bottom of the hill, gospel singer Solly Moholo and his crew of mkhukhu singers staged a mini festival, singing along to a CD booming from a PA system set up hastily on a trailer.

For a good half hour or so, it seemed the rocks would crumble under the weight of the singing from the men. Some of the bereaved family members, who were bussed in for the service, looked on from a distance, perhaps wishing their loved ones were among the band of singing men.

As dusk fell on Marikana and the band of workers marched down the hill towards the edges of Nkaneng I saw, yet again, that pair of shoes.

No one had claimed it.

Perhaps no one had dared touch it out of respect, assuming that its owner had died.

Maybe no one saw any reason to remove it. But it was still there and I couldn’t stop wondering, again, who the shoes might belong to.

Who was this man? What happened to him? Did he leave the shoes here while running up the hill in fear when the police moved in on the crowd? Was he perhaps running down the hill in defiance, to face the police?

Is he dead, alive, in jail or safe at home? If he’s still alive, does he have another pair of shoes?

All this, we may never know, for shoes tell no tales.

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