Under the green blanket

On August 20, Mbulelo returned to the mortuary to identify his cousin. He broke down when he saw Mgcineni “Mambush” Noki’s mutilated body, touching his face while tears streamed down his own.

But he could not grieve for long – he had to prepare himself to inform Mambush’s wife, sisters, family members and friends.

He stood over the previously strong but now broken body and thought about how he would break the news.


A grieving widow dressed in black cradled her last-born son in her arms.

She had given birth during her period of mourning in a hut overlooking the lush green hills of Thwalikhulu, a remote village on the outskirts of Mqanduli, some 50km south of Mthatha and near the beautiful beaches of Coffee Bay.

The fertile hills are dotted with similar huts painted in green, peach and cream above a band of mud plaster.

Gravel roads and footpaths meander among the villages and homesteads.

The woman sang softly as she rocked her son.

The boy was healthy and she named him Mgcineni, which means “keep him”. He was born on February 2 1982.


As a boy, Mambush was spoilt by his doting sisters, Makazi (Nolufefe), Dadethu (Nobomi) and Nomaindia.

He never had to fetch water from the borehole or river. He had plenty of time to kick around a home-made soccer ball, stick-fight, and tell the most outrageous and imaginative stories his sisters had ever heard.

The Noki family led a simple life in a homestead comprising three thatched huts. Like their late father, most of the men in the village worked in distant mines.

The women in the family had access to a big garden and a large and fertile field which produced good crops of maize.

Mgcineni occasionally helped his mother and sisters to weed the garden and field, but preferred herding cows and stick-fighting with other village boys.

At age 10, he already believed he was one of the best fighters in the village.

He practised every morning in front of one of the three huts.

He would wrap a piece of cloth around his left arm, grip his sticks and challenge his older brother.

One morning, his friend Bulelani persuaded him to challenge a mutual friend, JJ, who was a few years older than him.

The two boys went at it hammer and tongs, striking with their offensive sticks and blocking with the defensive ones.

Hard blows fell, but the battle continued. Despite doing his best to apply the techniques he had practised every morning, it became evident Mgcineni was being thrashed.

But he refused to give in, and Bulelani had to drag him away.

That day, Mgcineni demonstrated his bravery.

His childhood friends still talk about this, so it came as no surprise to JJ to learn that Mgcineni had led thousands of miners during the strike at Marikana.

In this way, Mgcineni became a David, always ready to take on Goliath.

He did so again at Marikana.

This time, however, the Goliath was mine management and the police.


One morning in 1996,?a teacher called him aside, told him something very bad had happened, and said he had to go back home.

Earlier, Mambush’s mother had been ploughing the family field with his aunt and sister-in-law when a villager came to tell them a young woman had given birth to a stillborn child.

Mambush’s mother was neither a midwife nor a healer. However, she was known to be a kind and experienced woman and was therefore called to assist.

The Noki women gathered their hoes and food and made their way back to the village.

On the way there they were accosted by a group of men that included a young man who suffered from epilepsy.

The men accused Mambush’s mother of bewitching the young man.

They believed she had to be killed if the young man was to recover, and beat her to death.

Notshatile Noki, Mambush’s sister-in-law, watched in horror while her mother-in-law was butchered in front of her eyes.

Nolufefe was fetching water at the river when she saw some men entering the hut where her blind uncle was resting.

She dropped her bucket and ran home. When she got there, she heard people wailing and screaming: “Nanku umama wakho ubulelwe ngasemasimini (your mother has been killed at the fields).”

Mambush also learnt that his mother had been killed when he reached home.

Most elders were too busy arranging the funeral to register the extent of his pain and grief.

His older brother, the only breadwinner in the family, returned home from the mines a few days later, but this did not comfort Mambush either.

Instead, Mambush and his cousin Mbulelo found comfort in one another.

They were brought up to be strong men who did not show their emotions in front of others, but found times and spaces where they would shed tears together.

Mambush’s mother was buried in the garden, next to her husband.

He was left with three sisters, two of whom were married; his older brother; his sister-in-law, who was so traumatised that she left the village a few days later; and Mbulelo, who would be the last member of his family to see him alive.

After the funeral, the two boys spent a lot of time talking about avenging the death of their mother and aunt.

The killing was brutal and unforgivable, but Mambush believed they should not retaliate.

He told his cousin that more bloodshed was not the answer, and that they should not do to others what had been done to them.

They had to let life take its own course.


Among others, the Marikana shooting claimed the life of a person who did not know his father, whose mother was brutally killed, and who went to work on the mines to take care of his family.

It claimed the life of a leader among his peers.

It claimed the life of a brother, husband and father of three.

According to those who knew him, he was mature far beyond his 30 years.

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