Marikana’s battle of Wonderkop relived

A group of more than 2 000 armed men advanced on the National Union of Mineworkers (NUM) office in Wonderkop. Their aim, according to evidence led before the Marikana Commission of Inquiry, was to “deal with NUM branch leadership and to take over the NUM office”.

Just moments earlier, a group of about 30 men gathered at the NUM office had received a tip-off from security guards that the men, rock-drill operators who were embarking on an unprotected strike, were marching towards the building.

Word had also reached them that the rock-drill operators intended to burn down the NUM office.

In a huff, the men in the NUM office distributed weapons among themselves, spears and knobkerries. Others decided to leave the scene to avoid the expected blood bath. But about 20 others stayed behind, resolving to protect the building. A vehicle belonging to the union was hastily driven away to safety.

Moments later, a confrontation that marked the turning point in the unprotected strike of rock-drill operators employed by Lonmin, ensued. Two of the men in the group of 2 000 rock drill operators were shot in the back during this confrontation with the NUM members.

These are the events that unfolded at Lonmin’s Wonderkop hostel near Marikana on August 11 last year.

This incident has been identified as the turning point in the unprotected strike that had started on August 8 with no incidents of violence.

After the shooting, the rock-drill operators gathered on a koppie near Nkaneng informal settlement and within the next four days, 10 people, including two security guards, two police officers and six civilians had been killed. In total, 44 people died during the first eight days of the strike, 34 of them shot dead by police on August 16.

Saziso Albert Gegeleza, an NUM vice-secretary at Rowland Shaft, was one of the men who took up arms against the 2 000 strong group of rock-drill operators.

This morning, he told the Marikana Commission that he loved the NUM and was prepared to lay down his life to protect it. He said the NUM men had decided to stand their ground to protect the union’s office and their own lives.

When asked during cross-examination by Advocate Dali Mpofu on whether this small group of NUM men armed only with sticks and a few assegais were prepared to face the 2 000 rock drillers, Gegeleza gave a response that sent ripples of nervous laughter through the public gallery dominated by the union’s supporters, clad in red T-shirts.

“Where I come from I have never been told that fighting is determined by numbers. Since I was born I’ve never heard of that. What I know is that in a battle there are two sides, one will win and the other will lose,” Gegeleza said.

Gegeleza said the rock-drill operators fled after three shots were fired. He said he did not see who had fired the shots and had not seen any guns in the possession of NUM members that day.

He said after the shooting some of the 10 NUM members who had left before the confrontation, returned and joined in pursuit of the rock-drill operators.

Mpofu argued that the pursuit of the rock-drill operators “over a few hundred metres” was not consistent with Gegeleza’s testimony that they had armed themselves simply to protect the NUM’s office.

The hearing continues.

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