The pain of Marikana

2013-08-16 07:37

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A year after the Marikana killings, a new book looks at the events and creates a vivid picture of the reality of the lives of the miners and their families. In this extract from We are going to kill each other today (Tafelberg) the economic and emotional impact on those who lost their breadwinners is explored.

'He was our only hope"

Immediately after 16 August, the media were dominated by the events at Marikana and the fates of the dead and injured miners. In the weeks that fol¬lowed, however, another story began to unfold, namely the extreme impact of their deaths on their families and communities. It emerged that almost all the dead men had been migrant labourers from remote rural areas who had come to the mines in order to support wives, children, and other family members who were depending on them for their very survival.
The families learnt of the deaths of their loved ones at different times, and in different places. However, almost all shared a common feature, namely that the person they had lost had been their sole breadwinner. Many of the miners were young, with young wives and young children, and had big dreams for their futures. In a bitter irony, many were working to provide their children with a better education so that they could rise above a future on the mines. The stories of some of these people are told here.

"I have to be strong for her"

When Nombulelo Nqongophele heard that her husband had been killed at Marikana, she tried to kill herself by drinking pesticide. ‘She simply could not take the news,’ said her sister-in-law, Nosipho Ntonga, in their home village of Kwaleni outside Elliotdale in the Eastern Cape.

Bongani Nqongophele was 28 years old when he died. He had married Nombulelo in 2008, and the couple had a five-year-old daughter called Anga. They had been devoted to one another.  His mother was so shocked by the news of his death that she also required constant medical care.

‘I would trade places with my brother-in-law in a heartbeat if I could,’ said Nosipho. ‘He was very young, and had so much to look forward to. My sister is at the doctor because she is so weak. I don’t want her to find me in tears. I have to be strong for her,’ she said, weeping.

‘Bongani had just started to build his own house down the road from our home. He was planning to buy a car, and make a good life for his wife and child,’ said Khanyisa, Bongani’s sister.

A few months previously, Bongani and his siblings were planning a traditional ceremony which would end their mother’s period of mourning for her deceased husband. Now, she had to mourn for Bongani as well as her husband.
The family reminisced about Christmas, when Bongani would come home and they would all be together. Now, that time of the year would never be the same again. ‘Every December, the whole family would come home. I don’t know how it will be this year, with our father and now our youngest brother gone. This is very painful,’ Khanyisa said.

Searching the morgue

Mihle yona was only seven days old when his father, Bonginkosi yona, was killed at Marikana. Bonginkosi joined the strikers on the koppie every day, but returned to his wife, Nandipha, and their new baby in Nkaneng settlement every evening. Nandipha knew he would knock on the door, tired and hungry, and she would ensure that he was fed and rested before the challenges of the next day. On 16 August, however, he did not return.
She searched for him for days, with Mihle on her back. She eventually found his name on a list at a police station, but established that he wasn’t there. After three days of searching, and hearing many different stories from neighbours and friends, she finally learnt that he had been among those who were shot and killed.

Before she found his body in a state morgue, a feeling in the pit of her stomach told her Bonginkosi was dead. When she saw the body, she finally broke down. She was entirely dependent on her husband. She had no job, they had started building a new dwelling, had a five-year-old son, and had just added another member to their family.

She could not foresee how she could pick up where he had left off.

‘Government is talking about helping with the funeral,’ she said, ‘but what happens after that?  How am I supposed to make sure that my sons get the education their father was working for? How are they supposed to not end up in the mines when there is no one to provide them with a good education?’

She could not imagine a life without the man she had married eight years ago. But she had their two children to think about. A few days before the funeral, she was beside herself with worry as officials from the South African Social Security Agency visited her home. She spoke of the hard times she foresaw without Bongani, and the sad reality that her baby would never experience his father’s love. With no provider, her son’s education also seemed threatened.

"He wanted a better future"

The yard of Mongezeleli Ntenetya’s family home in the village of Nqabarha near Idutywa in the Eastern Cape was filled with people who had come to help prepare for his funeral.

Mongezeleli had been the sole breadwinner for 13 people – his wife, Nosipho; their three children; eight siblings; and his mother. Mongezeleli first started working at Lonmin when he was just 22, in order to take care of his family. Among others, the money he sent home allowed his brothers and sisters to continue going to school. He wanted a better life for them than that of a miner.
Orlando, one of Mongezeleli’s younger brothers, said he did not know what life would be like now that his brother was gone. ‘Though my brother didn’t have much, whatever we asked for, he would provide. He was a kind man, a big man who loved making everyone laugh. Right now, none of us at home can really talk about it. It hurts.’ Nowathile, Mongezeleli’s mother, said her son’s dream was to educate his siblings. ‘He wanted a better future for his sisters and brothers, and they all looked up to him,’ she said.

Besides their grief, the family also seemed to have lost its direction. They did not know where their next meal would come from, and how his eight siblings would finish school and continue their education. Some of the villagers who had come to help with the funeral preparations expressed deep concern about the future of the family, which had been wholly dependent on Mongezeleli’s wages from the mine.
"I see no future for us"

In the nearby village of Msikithi, another miner’s family was preparing to bury their only breadwinner. Mafolisi Mabiya was also 28 years old when he was shot down at Marikana. He had just added a new flat to the two green rondavels which had been his home.
‘My son was very young – that’s all I know,’ said his mother, Nosajini Mabiya. ‘When I think about him, it pains me, because I remember all the things he did for me, and all the things he still wanted to do.’

His wife, Pumeza, was only 19 years old. They had just begun their life together. Days before the funeral, Pumeza sat between her in-laws on a grass mat with a doek on her head and her head bowed. Every time her husband’s name was mentioned, sobs racked her body. She needed continuous consoling. She did not want to talk about a future without Mafolisi. ‘How are we supposed to survive without him? I see no future for us,’ she said.

Besides the loss of the man she had loved, she also had to consider how she would eventually tell her year-old son Buhle that his father had died at Marikana. ‘He was such a good father to our son in the short time he had with him. The anger we have is not directed at anyone, but comes from the pain we feel,’ Pumeza said.

"I knew he was gone"

Nkosiyabo Xalabile had worked at Lonmin with his younger brother, Mandlenkosi. Between them, they had provided for their family in the village of Manganyele near Elliotdale in the Eastern Cape. Back at home for his elder brother’s funeral, Mandlenkosi said he had looked for his brother on the day of the shooting, but could not find him anywhere. Then, he said, he suddenly felt cold.

‘I just became so thirsty. My heart started beating irregularly. In the pit of my stomach, I knew he was gone even before our pastor told me she had found his name on the deceased list at the hospital.’

He remembered his older brother as someone he could always talk to and depend on, and someone who would always protect him. They had stood together from the first day of the labour action at Marikana. From now on, however, Mandlenkosi would have to look after his mother and his sister-in-law, Lilitha, whom his brother had married just over a month before he was shot down.

Nkosiyabo’s mother, Nonezile, found it hard to talk. She said her son had loved her beyond words and had never imagined that he would leave this earth before her. Now, she said, all his responsibilities would rest on the shoulders of his younger brother.

"Talking won't bring him back"

In Mnthingwevu village at Cala in the Eastern Cape, a father grieved for his son who had taken his place at Lonmin mine. Andile yawa had fallen ill, and asked the mine to replace him with his young son Cebisile. In this way, Cebisile had come to assume his father’s role at the mine. Although he wanted to study further, he had to start working as the family had no other breadwinner. He never defied his father’s wishes.

Days before his funeral, the family gathered to pray in a rondavel lit by a single candle. The women sat on one side on grass mats, and the men on the other. Andile stood up to explain why he would not talk about his son. ‘He is dead, and talking about him won’t bring him back,’ he said.

His voice cracked, and tears started rolling down his weathered cheeks. Like other men in the rural areas of the Eastern Cape, he is steeped in a tradition which believes crying is a form of weakness. Nevertheless, even this could not conceal his agony at losing his son.

"He had so many dreams"

Babalo Mtshazi left Nkanga Junior Secondary School in Grade 7 when he realised that his mother and five siblings were struggling to make ends meet. Just mentioning his name to his younger sisters brought back their tears over the loss of a brother they had looked up to and depended on for education, food and clothes.

They could not bring themselves to talk about him. ‘It has really torn them up inside,’ said Nozipho Mtshazi, their mother. ‘The slightest mention of his name brings them to tears. He loved them so much.’

When Mtshazi got a job in the mines, he asked his mother to find a piece of land where he could build a house they could all call home, and stop squat¬ting with others. ‘I moved to this village because my son got a job. He wanted to build us a big home. He had so many dreams,’ said Nozipho.

The three rondavels and a newly completed flat were all built by her son. Five of his siblings were studying, and were entirely dependent on him.

"He was our only hope"

The events at Marikana also reached into Dvokolwako, a small village about 60 kilometres outside Manzini in Swaziland. Stelega ‘Eric’ Gadlela had been the sole provider for his wife and 11 children, aged between four and 28.

‘He was our only hope. He was responsible for everything in the house,’ said Hlengiwe, his eldest daughter. ‘Whenever he was on leave, he spoke about building us a bigger house.’ The family shared a four-roomed home. Betty, Stelega’s wife, could not be interviewed as Swazi culture forbade this while she was in mourning.

Hlengiwe said her father had phoned to tell the family about the strike shortly before he died. He had told her the situation was getting tense, and that helicopters and police had been deployed at the mine. ‘They should have dismissed him rather than killing him like that,’ she said.

This is an extract from We are going to kill each other today (Tafelberg), available at

Read more on:    marikana anniversary

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