Marikana aftermath – Widows’ cries hit home

2012-09-01 15:44

Mountain kingdom mourns over the deaths of its miners at Marikana

As dusk fell over the village of Lithoteng near Maseru on Friday, the wailing of women pierced through the modest home of Telang Vitalis Mohai, as family and friends lined up to receive his body.

Men stood with heads bowed, humming along to a Sesotho hymn sung by women who stood with heads tilted to the side.

They wiped away their tears with shawls.

His youngest child, a four-year-old daughter, stood among the adults, confused by the scene before her.

Inside the old brick house adjacent to the incomplete face-brick house he was building, a woman screamed, overcome with emotion.

Sobbing, another ran away from the group waiting to carry the coffin from the hearse into the house.

In life, Mohai was just an ordinary mine worker who made a living in Rustenburg’s platinum mines.

But in death, Mohai and his three compatriots, previously unknown in the corridors of power, brought the rulers of this mountain kingdom out of their air-conditioned offices to the Maseru border post to meet the undertakers who had brought the bodies from Rustenburg back to their homeland.

A government delegation led by the country’s monarch, King Letsie III, Prime Minister Thomas Thabane, and Minister of Labour and Employment Lebesa Maloi, in a cavalcade of security and official vehicles, led a procession to receive the bodies of the men back to their homeland.

The four men – Janeveke Raphael Liau (45), Telang Vitalis Mohai (36), Molefi Osiel Ntsoele (40) and Khanare Elias Monesa (36) – were among the 34 who died when police opened fire on striking mine workers from Marikana, North West, last month.

As the vehicles lined up to meet the hearses carrying the bodies of the four men just after noon on Friday, hundreds of people lined up along the road to watch the proceedings.

The procession snaked through Maseru traffic to the Lesotho Funeral Parlour, where the bodies lay in state.

Widows, children and relatives of the dead men broke down in tears as the truth of the tragedy hit home.

Earlier that morning, harrowing cries and the wailing of widows had echoed through the Manthabiseng Convention Centre as the Basotho honoured the dead men at a memorial service attended by South Africa’s Health Minister Dr Aaron Motsoaledi.

Motsoaledi said during the service that he hoped the commission of inquiry appointed by President Jacob Zuma to investigate the killings would provide some clarity on the events of August 16.

“We all want answers. We have seen a lot of finger pointing and accusations in the past two weeks, but we
have not yet arrived at the truth. We hope this commission will help us arrive at the truth,” he said.

Motsoaledi said the commission would investigate the actions of the police, the unions, Lonmin and others, and any complicity in the tragic deaths of the 44 people who died during the violent two-week strike.

The Lesotho prime minister said that despite the tragedy, Lesotho’s citizens would continue to seek work in South Africa because it has a stronger economy, in the same way that the US is an economic powerhouse that attracts jobseekers from smaller nations.

He said his government would wait for the conclusion of the commission of inquiry.

“There is nowhere in the world where a person is allowed to kill with impunity.

"I don’t believe that it’s God’s will that people should be shot dead.

"It’s nobody’s fault, but I want to ask the South African government to train their police not to be too hard on the trigger. Let’s learn to be steady on the trigger,” Thabane said.

But his words were cold comfort for some of the relatives, whose harrowing cries moved even soldiers in
the packed hall to tears.

Some of the women collapsed and had to be attended to by paramedics.

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