Marikana Day triggering for many reasons, says survivor injured during massacre and Amcu’s Mathunjwa

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Lonmin mine workers march to three different mines on 10 September 2012, demanding that shafts be closed down and workers join them in their wage strike.
Lonmin mine workers march to three different mines on 10 September 2012, demanding that shafts be closed down and workers join them in their wage strike.
Dino Lloyd

It's a job for the bravest among the brave – knowing that when you get into the crowded lift, it's dropping you down into the earth's belly.

You need to have a stomach of steel and firm self-control not to cry out loud as even a moment of darkness, underground, makes you feel like you are at your own burial.

Some would go as far as to say it is a man's job. But not the widows who took over the roles of their husbands after they were slain on 16 August 2012, a day that's known as the day of the Marikana Massacre.

There are still emotional shocks and constitutional damages, including the right to dignity and right to life, pending for the widows that have not been settled.

“The nature of mineral energy is complex and brutal, now can you imagine a woman working at a place that is dominated by men?" says Amcu president Joseph Mathunjwa.

"The widows are expected to work at the very same mine where their husbands were brutally murdered by the state and the capital and they pass that place every day and that is traumatising.

"Again they are using the very same lift to go down to the shaft with 200 men inside because they use the same cage. In all of that, the thoughts of their husbands doing the same job comes back they are put in a position they shouldn’t be at because they have to provide for their families.” 

Joseph says as a union they suggested that the widows go back home, and the company pay them up to pensionable age to show compassion to heal the wounds.

“The least that we could get from Lonmin was to employ the widows. But when the company acquired Lonmin, the first thing they did was to issue the Section 189 notice which is a retrenchment.

"And in the very same list, all these widows were part of that list to be retrenched and we fought for them.” 

Read more | 'We are not ready to see President Cyril Ramaphosa' - Miners as they honour their fallen colleages

For many people, watching the Marikana Massacre happen in real time, live on TV, was much like watching planes flying into the Twin Towers – it was hard to believe it was true.

Many South Africans watched in disbelief as sons, brothers, fathers and husbands collapsed on the ground in response to a hail of bullets by police on a hill at Lonmin Platinum Mine on 16 August 2012.

Survivor Luvo Mgcotyelwa had only been a miner for eight months when he was shot on that tragic day.

It’s a windy day in Mthatha, Eastern Cape, when Luvo reflects on the massacre commemorations.

“It is very traumatic to me,” he tells Drum. He is now at a construction site, mixing cement. That is about as much as he can do nowadays because he was left permanently injured after the massacre.

Ten years later, he finds it hard to talk about that day. “I do not like to talk about it. Even hearing about it on the news makes me angry because our colleagues died and we were not even compensated for our injuries.

"This conversation with you is also irritating me, because it is opening up old wounds. It is taking me back and I don’t want to go back there.”

While the country commemorates and remembers those who died, for some like Luvo, today is just another day of trying to make ends meet for his family.

“I had only been a miner for eight months when that thing happened. I was shot in both legs, and I now walk with a limp. My left leg still has a bullet lodged in in and doctors had to insert an iron rod in there too,” Luvo says.

He was shot multiple times but, thankfully, most of the bullets were removed.

He is 38 years old now and when he left his Eastern Cape home aged 28, nothing could have prepared him for the day his life was going to change for ever.

“I had gone there to stay with my sister and work at the mine. When I left home that morning, even though people were injured and some killed just days before, I did not think this would escalate to that level.

“There were many people gathered there, I do not know the names of some of the people that died there. I knew them by sight from seeing them underground or in the location and exchanging greetings. When I left home that morning, I did not know I would end up being shot for nothing,” he adds.

On 16 August 2012, 34 miners were killed when police fired live ammunition at Lonmin platinum mine in Marikana, Rustenburg, North West. Just days before about 10 people, including security guards, were killed as miners protested for better salaries. At the time, some of them were earning as little as R5000 and they were demanding R12500.

Armed with pangas, spears, axes and knobkerries, the miners gathered outside their workplace saying they would strike until their demands were met.

Now some miners want 16 August declared a public holiday in SA, to honour the miners who died at Marikana.

Read more | Women of Marikana: 'We need help from the government as our brothers and sisters are killing each other'

The Amcu's president, Joseph, says he sent the proposal to the president’s office four years ago to make 16 August a holiday, because as a union, they understand a holiday cannot be gazetted by Sibanye Stillwater.

“We suggested this day to be the official Workers’ Day because now we’ve got our own worker’s day created by the ANC government by killing workers.

"In the true sense of it, it should be the president who determines or gazettes this day as a workers’ day.

"If he says there will be too many holidays, then suggest that he moves 1 May to 16 August because it has significance, workers died on this day.”

Ten years later it is still no work, no pay when they take time off to remember those who were killed in 2012, says Joseph.

They have not concluded the issue of the payments for the injured miners and they want to turn the site where the massacre took place into a memorial site in consultation with the Trade Unions and all stakeholders, Joseph tells Drum.

“If you can go interview the president, he will say he is shocked that nothing we have demanded has happened but he holds the authority to make it happen.

"When it comes to Sibanye Stillwater when they took over the mine in 2019 they came with an attitude that it is a normal working day and if anyone doesn’t report to duty they will be charged and that was the first struggle we had to fight.”

He says the workers told Sibanye Stillwater that for today they can do what they want to do but they are not coming.

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