Nolufefe Noki is the older sister of the ‘man in the green blanket’. He was the family’s main breadwinner, and now she is alone at home in Thwalikhulu village in Mqanduli, Eastern Cape. Picture: Muntu Vilakazi/City Press
‘Sometimes I wonder if my brother did not die in vain,” says Nolufefe Noki as she cooks her family’s evening meal of pap and cabbage outside her rondavel in Thwalikhulu village.
Nolufefe, who after their parents died helped raise her youngest brother, known as the man in the green blanket, has little to show for his life.
Mgcineni “Mambush” Noki led the unprecedented strike during which he and 33 other miners were gunned down by police on August 16 2012 in Marikana.
Leading the struggle for a R12?500 monthly wage was the 28-year-old man, now revered by many as a working class hero. But the reputation paid for in blood doesn’t pay the bills.
Fighting back tears, Nolufefe says she wonders whether her brother’s death was worth anything.
Although she admired his courage and resilience, the family lost their breadwinner and they are now far worse off. Even promises made by Lonmin to educate the children of the dead miners remained largely unfulfilled.
“Mgcineni has five children from different mothers. None of them are being educated by Lonmin. All the company has done so far was buy them school uniforms and shoes, two for each child. Other than that, nothing has happened,” she says.
However, Lonmin spokesperson Happy Nkhoma says that the company is “always in contact with the mothers, about the needs of the children”
“Lonmin would like to state for the record that so far, the fund has paid for the education of four of Noki’s school-going children. We will not name the children because they are still minors but we can confirm that two of them go to Thwalikhulu Junior Secondary School, one attends Siyalakha Christian School and the other goes to Ikhwezi Lokusa Crèche.
“The younger child was 3-years old when the tragedy happened, but time and again, we do provide assistance to the mother and when the child goes to Grade R next year, the fund will assist with his or her schooling,” Nkhoma said.
Nolufefe (33) is the fourth of five children. Mgcineni was the last-born. He never saw his father, who died while his mother was pregnant with him, and his mother died when he was very young.
“I practically raised Mambush. I don’t have children of my own, so I had to play the role of big sister and that of a mother, but he always wanted to be the one taking the responsibility,” says Nolufefe.
“I miss my brother, I miss him a lot – especially when Christmas is approaching. He used to buy gifts for all of us here at home.
“Whenever he came back from Marikana, he would spoil us. He bought us sweets and would bring us meat and food to feast over the holidays. Now that he is no more, we have become orphans in this world.”
Mgcineni supported eight people: his five children, his niece Sinoyolo and his wife Noluvuyo.
The Nokis live in Mqanduli, near Mthatha, in a dilapidated rondavel made out of mud, which is both the kitchen and bedroom.
Their kitchen cupboards are empty.
Their only toilet was destroyed by a storm last June, which also laid waste to the roof and the door.
They are struggling to renovate two other rondavels, which both have leaky roofs.
“We had to sell one of my brother’s cattle in order to fix the other rondavels, and now we’re using this one for everything.
“We cook here or make fires outside. There is no electricity in the village, so we use wood to make fire for cooking or buy paraffin when there is money and use the stove.”
Mgcineni’s room, a small rondavel at the front of the home with painted green walls, is preserved, spotless, with two beds and a wardrobe.
It breaks her heart to think of what her brother died for; and looking at their lives now, she believes he must be turning in his grave.
“Every 27th of the month, we knew that there was money coming from him. Now there is nothing. He would send us R2?000 and say we must take care of ourselves and his children.
“He had big plans for his home. He wanted to build a house, because this was his home he was not going anywhere, he loved it here and enjoyed being around his people.”
His children, she says, who live with their unemployed mothers in 'neighbouring villages, are struggling.
His grave mirrors his family’s suffering: the tombstone broken by goats. Buried beside his parents and elder brother at the bottom of the yard, his is the only discernible resting place because the family is too poor to provide a monument to anyone else.
His niece Sinoyolo (18) remembers a generous uncle who smiled, even when he was angry.
“He would carry me on his shoulders to watch soccer matches in the village, or to watch him play, when I was a little girl. He treated me like a little princess. He bought me shoes, clothes and anything I wanted.
“He was like a father to me, my own father died in 2005 and he had filled that void. Now that he is gone, we are struggling because there is no one left to take care of us. The police took away our breadwinner.”
Sinoyolo and her aunt survive on her R800 monthly foster care grant.
“We are really struggling. Our life has been deteriorating since Mgcineni died. My brother was the pillar of strength in this family. He was younger than me and I raised him, but because of his character, he wanted to be the one taking care of us,” says Nolufefe.
“Now we have no one.”
As the Marikana Commission of Inquiry draws to a close, Nolufefe’s only hope is that the truth can be uncovered.
“The truth of what really happened is still to be told. Men died in Marikana and left behind poor families, who are now even poorer without them. My only hope is that at least they did not die in vain.”
• After the story was published, Lonmin wrote to City Press to point out that they were educating Noki’s children. City Press apologises for not seeking their comment prior to publication and regrets the error.