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5 Life in a time ofviolence

There have been moments in history where men have united to fight for a common purpose, and turned on those who would not join them at the same time. The story of the mineworkers of Marikana is such a moment. It has a simple truth at its heart which contradicts the many myths that have sprung up aroundit. I did not report on the strike before 16August, and did not witness the shooting. Three weeks later, however, I spent six days in the shanty town of Nkaneng, on the edge of Wonderkop township, eating, sleeping, drinking and talking with the miners as the strike ground on, trying to gain a deeper understanding of their situation and what had led up to theshooting. According to the miners, neither the ousted ANC youth leader Julius Malema or the renegade AMCU had played key roles in the dispute. Malema, they said, had tried to hijack the strike in order to pursue his campaign against the ANC and its leaders, particularly President Jacob Zuma; and AMCU had tried to encourage mineworkers to leave the NUM. However, when the chips were down, the workers who shared similar roots across South and southern Africa had turned to the only people they believed they could trust: themselves. Similarly, the truth about the strike and the events surrounding it are locked up in the miners dailylives. Heat, noise and dust all started early in the shack settlement of Nkaneng. At 6h30, the sounds of Maskandi (Zulu), Famo (Sotho) and Xitsonga (Tsonga) music already filled the air. Men and women were up, filling their buckets to wash clothes, wash themselves, and throwing the water into the streets. It was hot, and getting hotter by theminute. The truth is that we live like pigs while the mine smiles when we dig that platinum and make them rich, said Thobisile Jali, from Mthatha in the Eastern

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Cape. We have nothing to show for our long hours of work. We have to provide for ourselves here as well as our families back home. Our children need to get a better future than wehave. As you can see for yourself, I live in a tin, and its hot, but I have no choice because I have to save money for the twelve people back at home who rely on me, said Carlos Zunguza fromMozambique. Like Zunguza, most mineworkers in Marikana lived in rented or self-built one-roomed shacks in the informal settlements of Nkaneng and Wonderkop. They had opted to live outside the hostels in order to receive a R1850housing allowance, and receive visitors for longer periods. They shared the settlements with goats, pigs, chickens and dogs, and their children played in the filthy streets andpathways. Zunguza had to help his heavily pregnant wife to wash clothes and linen before he could join the other men. They already had one son of about three, and Zunguza was hoping to buy a car so that they could travel as a family when they went backhome. Over my six long days and nights in the shacklands of Marikana, I met people who were quite different from the images of angry men, armed with spears and knobkerries, which had dominated newspapers and television screens up to and after the shooting. Their favourite pursuit in the evenings was to watch TV soapies like Generations and Rhythm City. They all explained the strike in the sameway. As they told it, it was a bread-and-butter workplace dispute. They were dissatisfied with their large drilling quotas and long working hours, and the pay they received in return. Following a meeting among themselves on 9August, they first turned to the NUM, but were rebuffed. They then decided to take matters in their own hands, and started the wildcatstrike. Initially, they organised themselves among the shacks and in the hostels. However, after a clash with security officials, they gathered on a granite koppie adjacent to Wonderkop township from which they fled on 16August into the guns of the police. AMCU had played a minor and opportunistic role, seeking to benefit from their dispute with the NUM. Although Malema had been well received, he had also played a peripheralrole. Tholekile Mbhele lived in a rented one-room shack, sharing a pit latrine

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with about eight other workers. The shack was extremely hot during the day. He told me: We organised ourselves as mineworkers because this affected all of us, and not the unions. It was difficult for everyone to get involved, because others were scared. There were never any intentions by our guys to hurt anybody. It was decided that for the mine to hear our demands, everyone should down tools irrespective of what union they belongedto. We had given up on the union to represent us, because they didnt take us seriously. NUM people said we went behind their backs by demanding to see the employer and asking for more money. Instead of supporting us, they turned against us. Weve been earning peanuts for years, and no union wanted to listen to us, so we decided to do thingsourselves. The community was dominated by single men. They came from rural areas marked by traditional divisions of labour, but had had to adapt, doing their own washing, cleaning and cooking. The walls of their tiny rooms were adorned with pictures of loved ones back home. In the meantime, however, the thousands of other miners living in close proximity were their otherfamily. No one can defy all these men and not join the strike, said one miner as the negotiations continued. A decision was taken that all the workers would go on strike. It doesnt matter what my personal views are I have to be part of this because some people have died for us. I am tired of the strike. We are running out of food, and we have to borrow money. But we have lost so many men that we cant go back until our demands are met. Like many others, he asked me not to use hisname. There were signs of fear and mistrust among the mineworkers as I continued to talk to them over the new few days. Many spoke about buying food on credit, and how their lack of money was affecting their loved ones at home. The strike was also affecting shack owners, as well as owners of spaza shops in thesettlements. Some mineworkers said the strike had gotten out of hand, and they wanted to go back to work, but told stories of colleagues who had been brutally murdered by fellow mineworkers for reporting for work, or allegedly giving information about the strikes leaders to the NUM or thepolice. One afternoon, while the negotiations were grinding on elsewhere, three men from Lesotho were sitting next to their shacks and quenching their thirst with

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Hansa Pilsner. Weve had enough but we cant just leave the strike, because our brothers have died, one said. Some of the leaders are stubborn, but we cant go against them, because we dont know what is going to happen to us at night. One guy was killed behind Nkaneng because they thought he was sellingout. In my six days in the warrens of Marikana, no one dared to say who had killed Isaiah Twala, an NUM shop steward, and other mineworkers, and mutilated them in other ways. It was as if the men had been sworn to secrecy, or belonged to a cult which ruled out talking to strangers. It was hard to gain their trust, and most refused to be photographed or to give their names. Thrown into the mix were beliefs in the potency of traditional medicine(muti). Mineworkers confirmed that a mysterious sangoma had played a major role in the events leading up to the massacre. The man, whom they would not name, came from Mbizana in the Eastern Cape, and was said to work at the neighbouring Amplats (Anglo American Platinum) mine, which was also experiencing ongoing industrialunrest. Miners said the sangoma had charged each man R1000for muti which would protect them against the police as well as Lonmin security personnel. The sangoma also offered them bee swarms and lightning strikes which would be effective against the police. The men believed police who had been brought in from KwaZulu-Natal and the Eastern Cape had actually undergone some muti rituals themselves in order to counter theirown. According to the miners, most of the 3000-odd men who had gathered on the koppie had made use of muti, undergoing various rituals which included incisions on their backs, thighs, foreheads and necks. The miners still believed the muti had worked, even in the wake of the deaths of 34of their comrades. They shot at us but their guns didnt work thats when they started to fear us, said an Eastern Cape miner, recalling an early skirmish with mine security before August16. Our men only had spears, pangas and knobkerries, but those security guards were wounded. Iyeza belisebenza tata (the muti was working), said a miner from the Eastern Cape. He also believed their firearms jammed and didnt fire because of themuti. He spoke about how strikers were ambushed by police while they were at the koppie on 16August and forced to run towards the Nyalas, where many met

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their deaths. One of the men said to us, madoda, kubi apha ngasemva (guys, its bad behind us), and then some teargas was fired at us and we ran down the hill. We were surrounded by Nyalas, and we couldnt get to the shacks, so we had to go straight towards the police. I just remember the loud noises of the guns, shooting at us. It was chaos as every man tried to savehimself. Mbhele and others said the 34mineworkers who had been shot dead had not completed all the rituals. I was right next to Mambush when they fired the shots but look at me, I dont have a single scratch on my body, because I had gone through all the rituals, he said. Also, Mambush was just shot on the leg, and we believe they ran him over with a Nyala to finish himoff. Others who had sustained bullet wounds also claimed they had survived because of the muti and by pretending to be dead while hiding under the bodies of their colleagues. But no one could explain why the sangoma had not unleashed the bee swarms and lightning strikes they simply said the whole group had not followed certain instructions andrituals. Zwelinzima Tikimana, 51, a rock drill operator who had been shot in the foot, wouldnt say whether he had taken part in the rituals, but said he was shot while trying to flee from teargas that had been shot from behind the koppie. A father of six children hailing from Lusikisiki in the Eastern Cape, and now living in a one-roomed shack, he said he had joined the strike so that he could earn moremoney. His tiny shack contained a threadbare mattress on a board supported by bricks, a very small TV set, and a primus stove. There was little room for a visitor or anything else. Miners were paying R150to R600a month to rent a shack. Given the size of his shack, Tikimana was payingR150. Ive worked in the mine for 24years but have never seen anything like this, he said. My wish was just for all of us to get a better pay, because we have families back at home. We never wanted any violence. Efforts to trace the sangoma were fruitless. Mbhele revealed that after the massacre they went to look for another sangoma who could give them betterprotection. What fascinated me about Mbhele who was also close to Mambush was that he prayed to God before leaving his home, and then took intelezi (a herb used by warriors to give them courage and diminish their fear). Meanwhile, the strike and its consequences had passed into folklore, creating a new unifying

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myth for a community already closely bonded by their shared origins, circumstances and struggle. The dead miners had becomeheroes. During the last few days before the settlement, it became clear that the strike was extracting a heavy toll. Many people were looking for food bargains, and some even asked journalists for money to buy food. On September 19, hundreds of men and women queued to buy live chickens from a bakkie parked next to a soccer pitch. The man selling them said he had reduced the price from R40to R20because of thestrike. Fikere Asesa, an Ethiopian, stood outside his almost empty spaza shop. We are struggling to make money because of this strike, he said. Without these guys [the mineworkers] we are unable to make a proper living. Electricity and rent are expensive, and we are running low on stock. We cannot buy in bulk at this stage because people are only buying what they need. Most of the people come here for skoloto (credit), and I have to give them a little bit because they are my customers. He had left Ethiopia about three years previously to seek a better life in SouthAfrica. Shadrack Ramokgadi, a pensioner and former mineworker who rents out a number of shacks in his yard, said the strike had been tough on him and his family. I cant collect rent from any of these men because I can see what is happening, and they are human beings who are trying to survive. It would be inhumane to force them to pay rent when I am fully aware that they are not getting paid. My pension is not enough for my family, but we have to wait until the strike is over. We know they will payus. He said he had not witnessed a strike of this magnitude since 1976. He had grown up in Marikana, and when he was a boy there were no mines there, but only grazing land, as well as enough land for ploughing. When the mines came here, a lot of people moved into the area, and this was during apartheid. It was inevitable that this place would develop at an alarming rate, with shacks all over. Most people here are mineworkers who have families elsewhere and are just here to work and send moneyhome. The other problem is that because many mineworkers are not well educated they are paid peanuts, even though they are the ones who bring money to the surface from the bottom of the earth. They should be paidfairly. So the massacre at Marikana was configured by relatively simple factors, long

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before 16August. They lay in impoverished rural areas, in the mine shafts, in the hot and overcrowded shanty towns, and in hostel rooms. They took form in a simple demand for a minimum monthly wage of R12500. Notwithstanding the settlement at Marikana, they will continue to haunt the South African mining industry, South African society, and the entire region, which has provided South Africas mines with labour for almost 150years.

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