Marikana widows wear their husbands' boots

2014-11-23 15:00

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Partners and family members of late mine workers step into the breach to take over the role of breadwinner. Athandiwe Saba speaks to them

"My husband never wanted a working wife. He used to say he would provide everything I wanted,” says Nandipha Yona (31).

But in August 2012 her husband, Bonginkosi Yona, died – and now his widow is going to work at Lonmin, the company where he was employed until he died in the Marikana massacre.

Yona is one of a group of 41 people – widows, brothers and cousins of some of the men who died fighting for a R12?500 monthly wage in Marikana – who have been employed by Lonmin.

After two weeks of training, induction and fitness tests, Yona, from Mount Frere in the Eastern Cape, begins her work on the surface at Lonmin’s Marikana mine tomorrow.

She attended the commission of inquiry into the massacre headed by retired Judge Ian Farlam and has, for the past fortnight, been living near Lonmin’s training centre in Marikana.

“I didn’t want anyone else to represent me at the commission or take over from my husband. This is something I have to do,” said Yona.

Nolundi Tukuza (39), from Ngqeleni in the Eastern Cape, said there was no easy way to take over from her late husband, Mphangeli, but it had to be done. When her husband died, she was five months’ pregnant with their fifth child.

“It has been really hard leaving them behind. The little one, who is nearly two years old now, lives with a relative and the other four are at school,” said Tukuza.

“I know I will be away from home for months on end and I don’t know how they are going to grow up without a parent there to teach them things.

“It’s hard enough without a father, now they won’t have a mother too,” she said.

Yona said once she had settled into her job and was comfortable, she would like her sons Babalo and Mihle to come and live with her at the mine.

“I can’t make it without them. Babalo has been asking when I’m coming home. I tell him in December but he doesn’t understand yet. It will be like this until they live with me.”

Not everyone will be posted at the Wonderkop or Marikana mines. But it’s not clear where they will live.

Happy Nkhoma, Lonmin’s spokesperson, said the mining company was converting a 16?000-bed hostel into 8?000 family units.

“The last block should be completed at the end of the month and that is where we wanted to place these families. But there is also the waiting list of people who want to live there.

“So Amcu [the Association of Mineworkers and Construction Union] says there is no way these women can jump the queue,” said Nkhoma.

“We are still in discussions with the majority union, but we’ll make a plan because letting them fend for themselves is not an option yet.”

Of the 41, only 10 have been deemed fit enough to work underground.

Banele Jijase (25) said he was disappointed that he was deemed unfit to toil below the surface. His brother, Akhona Jijase, who had been a rock drill operator for a month at Lonmin before he died, was the sole breadwinner in the family.

Jijase said he would have to take on his older brother’s responsibilities of taking care of five of his family members.

“The employment is welcome, but it will always be difficult to work for the same company my brother died trying to getting a living wage from,” he said.

Many of the 41 agreed with him. “I try to explain to the children that I now work for Lonmin. It’s already hard enough because they are tormented at their new school,” said Tukuza.

Her four children are at a boarding school in Port Edward, KwaZulu-Natal.

She said other pupils keep telling her children that their father tried to kill the police and that is why he is dead.

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