Five years on: Marikana residents still live in dire conditions

Protesting miners stage a sit-in on a hill near Lonmin's Marikana platinum mine. (AP)
Protesting miners stage a sit-in on a hill near Lonmin's Marikana platinum mine. (AP)

Marikana - Men dressed in white overalls with green and yellow stripes, wearing black safety boots, and carrying their "skafting" (lunch-box) walk the dusty roads of Marikana in the North West.

They return home from the Rowlands mineshaft, which belongs to platinum miner Lonmin, and where most of them are employed.

It is a few kilometres from the koppie where many mine workers lost their lives on August 16, 2012.

On that day, police shot dead 34 miners and wounded scores more while trying to end their strike for higher pay. Most of the miners were shot in the back.

READ: Marikana massacre to be commemorated at hillside where massacre occurred

'Shooting with a purpose'

By the end of the strike, 44 people had died. Velile Mkhonto, 52, who was present on that fateful day, said he started working for Lonmin in 2010. He is originally from uMhlabuyalingana in KwaZulu-Natal.

Near the koppie in Marikana, the dirt roads and bush are lined with skinny cattle. Some locals get their water from a massive tank to do their washing. Young children play barefoot between the shacks.

Mkhonto’s hands are those of a man who works hard to support his family. Speaking about August 16, his voice breaks in despair. He was on the koppie during the strike. He and his colleagues sat there day and night, covered in blankets, and would sneak away only for a few minutes to get something to eat before returning.

Mkhonto says police had tried to intimidate them before the shooting.

"It seemed like the police were shooting with a purpose and had a number in mind. I heard stories after, that the police kept in mind the number the mortuary can handle. It was terrible."

He says he was one of the lucky ones to have escaped the attack. Many mineworkers lay scattered across the ground like clothes.

READ: Editorial: Marikana - a massive failure of justice

Salary demands

Most of them died a few metres from the koppie, in an area called Wonderkop, where around 3 000 strikers carrying sharp weapons had gathered during the strike.

Miners at Lonmin were unhappy about their salaries - general workers reportedly took home less than R3 500 per month and rock drillers less than R8 000. They wanted their salaries increased to R12 500.

Five years later, and things have improved.

"The hostels are better and accommodate more people. We earn a bit more than we used to and life is much better now, even for our families back home," Mkhonto says.

The father of five says he now earns enough to support his family in KwaZulu-Natal.

Leah Mashaba, a struggling businesswoman in Marikana, says there are not many jobs. The 26-year-old owns a hair salon a few metres from the koppie.

"My business is also not going well. Things are not going as I had planned, but it's better than staying at home and not doing a thing. It's hard, but I'm trying."

The father of her two children is an engineer at the Rowland shaft. He was there on the day of the shooting.

"We watched from a distance what was happening, and saw people running. We then heard gunshots and were only later told by the workers who were there, and from the wives who were looking for their husbands, what had happened," Mashaba says.

A pastor at the local St John’s church, Duduzile Malahle, 46, was fortunate to escape the attack. The church is nothing more than a small shack, painted blue and white. She arrived in Marikana from the Eastern Cape in 2008. She remains hopeful that things will change.

"Life is not great, but we keep trying to improve it. Children have it the hardest here. There are no jobs and people are hungry.”

Leaving the memories of August 16 behind has not been easy.

"It's been five years, but it hasn't been easy for our spirits to rest, because whenever we hear a gunshot, we fear it might be happening again."

Samuel Koelakoela was working as a shaft sinker at Lonmin before he was retrenched in January 2016.

Koelakoela is from Mount Fletcher in the Eastern Cape. He was not present on the day, but says he prayed for those on the koppie. Now he works piece jobs to send some money home to his family in the Eastern Cape.

Basic services

Koelakoela was also unhappy about living conditions in Marikana.

"We were promised that life would change after the blood of so many was spilt. People who were fighting for more wages. It was promised that we'd have it by 2017, but nothing."

The father of three daughters says they still have no running water and electricity.

He believes the koppie needs to be turned into something to help remember those who died.

"There is no life here. Look at where we live. Look at the roads. No water and electricity. We have nothing, only prayer. Government should have fixed this place up a long time ago. I haven't seen government do anything, especially since what happened," he says in despair.

Democratic Alliance leader Mmusi Maimane visited the area on Tuesday morning. He said there was still no delivery of basic services.

"There is still no housing infrastructure developed here. The conditions that created Marikana five years ago are still in place."

Maimane said a change deeper than merely replacing President Jacob Zuma was needed.

"We need a change of policy that says let those who go underground also be shareholders in the mine.

"Let us ensure that we build the right infrastructure here and partner with the municipality so that houses can be built and water can be delivered. The sooner we bring that change, the better." 

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