Marikana: Like a death knell, the clanging on the koppie got louder

2015-08-14 16:35
Picture: Leon Sadiki

Picture: Leon Sadiki

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August 14 2012. It was all over the news now, on this day three years ago, that Marikana was on the boil.

Across the area, the tension was thick. 

There were police officers everywhere. Lonmin properties were tightly guarded. 

The body count was at nine. This included two mine security officials and two mine workers killed over the weekend. The day before, two police officers and three mine workers had died when a confrontation suddenly broke out as the police were escorting a group of about 200 striking miners to Nkaneng mountain.

More police officers from other provinces were deployed to Marikana overnight. Helicopters were hovering in the air, monitoring the striking miners as they trickled towards the mountain, their gathering spot. 

From a distance away, clanking could be heard as a large group of men on the mountain were dancing and hitting their metal weapons against each other. More men carrying sharp weapons and sticks walked past, heading towards the mountain. 

For journalists, a daunting task was lying ahead. Stories of violent protests and killings were in the papers, and on television and radio. The employer, Lonmin, has spoken but those stories were not complete without the striking miners’ voices. 

As more journalists arrived, we decided to walk to the mountain, leaving our cars about 400 metres away. 

The clanking sound amplified with every step as we approached the mountain. I could almost feel the eyes of more than 3 000 men fixed on us as we took those lazy but bold steps. 

This was not about bravery though. We drew courage from each other in a mission to get the voice of striking miners and produce well-balanced stories. 

These men were armed – heavily armed, – with pangas, knobkerries and other sharp objects. There were no police officers in sight. 

It was clear that they did not want police anywhere near them so we decided to go there when there were none of the uniformed men around, except for the helicopters hovering above. 

We stood about 50 meters away and were approached by men who immediately set the ground rules. No one was allowed to wear a watch; sunglasses and cellphones were banned too. We had to leave all these in our cars and walk back to the mountain. 

The rules were even stricter for female journalists, who were ordered not to get too close to the armed men for reasons that were not explained. 

Back on the mountain, most of the men were seated, either on their heels or flat on their buttocks. Two groups of about 20 men were singing what sounded like war songs and danced gently but uniformly in what looked like a rehearsed routine. Those sitting on the mountain kept quiet. Order reigned on this mountain. 

Those who needed to relieve themselves could be seen walking to the front of the group. They had to do it in sight of all the other men. 

At that time we explained ourselves to the leaders of the strikers. We had to assure them that we were not with the police and we were not sent by them. They looked convinced when we told them that no one knew their grievances and that is what we wanted to hear and take to the people. 

“Wait here,” we were told. We waited. The sun was now scorching. Minutes passed and the men did not come back. They were holding a small caucus. 

The clanking sound of weapons did not stop. Then one journalist broke the silence. 

“Guys I do not feel safe any more. I am getting out of here,” he said. 

He must have read our minds. We all moved away. 

From a distance we watched the group on the mountain swell. Our numbers were increasing as well as more journalists arrived. 

After our own caucus we decided to give it a try again. Back at the mountain we were told to wait, but this time things moved fast as miners were delegated to be interviewed. Orders were given through loudhailers that no one should stand up or walk around. 

Interviews were conducted and the men spoke in one voice. Their demand was R12 500, which for some was more than a 100% salary increase. 

When it was all done we left. I gave my business card to one of the strike leaders. 

We were relieved that we finally managed to speak to the miners and there was no incident at the mountain but what we were to discover gave a whole new angle to our stories. 

Driving around the mountain we came across the body of a man lying on his back. He had fresh, open wounds on his face and blood was on his clothes. 

Could he have been killed while we were busy interviewing the men on the other side of the mountain? Was he killed before we arrived or while we were made to wait? 

The man was later identified as Isaiah Twala, a National Union of Mineworkers shopsteward who was apparently spotted in the crowd on the mountain, grabbed and taken to the back where he was hacked to death. An animal skull was later placed on his chest before his body was removed. 

Clearly the situation was not getting any better. More police were being deployed from as far as KwaZulu-Natal and the Eastern Cape, we were told. 

The body count was now at 10, six days since the strike began. We left Marikana to go and file our stories. But we were due back on the mountain the following day and we were not sure what to expect. 

» This article forms part of a Marikana diary, written by City Press journalists who covered the massacre. Click here to read his previous piece. 

Read more on:    marikana anniversary

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