On August 16 2012 the South African police shot and killed 34 striking miners at the Lonmin platinum mine in Marikana. Nearly three years later, on the afternoon of June 25 2015, with no warning to the families of those killed, President Jacob Zuma announced that he would be releasing the report by retired judge Ian Farlam’s commission of inquiry into the deaths during the strike — 44 people in total were killed: 10 people before August 16 — on national television at 7pm.
At Marikana, the surprise announcement caught the families of the deceased miners and those shot by police on August 16 unawares — returning home to the news they scurried around to find television sets and radios to hear the president's reading of the report.
Farlam's report absolved the executive, in particular then police minister Nathi Mthetwa and Susan Shabangu, the mineral resources minister at the time, of any responsibility for the deaths.
The Commission did find that Lonmin's failure to fulfil its social and labour plans — legally binding obligations on which its new order mining rights are dependent — should be investigated.
It also found that police should have stopped their tactical operation after the killing of 17 miners at "scene one". Instead, police continued to another koppie, "scene two", where a further 17 miners were killed.
Mail & Guardian chief photographer Paul Botes and freelance journalist Niren Tolsi have been investigating Marikana’s aftermath since 2012. In this special report, they explore evidence before the commission that strongly suggests 17 miners, who posed no threat to the police, were executed by police away from television cameras at “scene two” on August 16 2012.
They also explore housing shortages in Marikana, which was one of the motivating factors behind the 2012 strike and test the current temperature in the North West town which both government and Lonmin appear to have failed.
Marikana Scene 2 No refuge
On August 16, and in the weeks that followed, the world reacted with horror to televised images of South African police firing an eight-second fusillade at striking miners at Marikana, in the North West province, killing 17 of them.
Away from media cameras, at a koppie about 500 metres away from the large rock where miners had gathered daily during their wage strike, the police then appear to have gone on a “free for-all” killing spree.
About 15 minutes after the shooting at the cattle kraal, described as “scene one” at the subsequent commission of inquiry, police members fired 295 rounds of live ammunition at hundreds of miners hiding on the koppie, where they had run for refuge after witnessing the earlier slaughter.
Evidence before the Farlam Commission of Inquiry, which investigated the 44 deaths during the week-long strike, suggested police had fired with intent and purpose at the koppie. Much of the killing was carried out with execution-style precision: of the 17 miners shot dead at what became known as “scene two”, four had bullet wounds in the head or neck; 11 had been shot in the back.
Nine miners – Ntandazo Nokamba, Thabiso Mosebetsane, Mphumzeni Ngxande, Janaveke Liau, Stelega Gadlela, Mvuyisi Pato, Mafolisi Mabiya, Julius Mancotywa and Fezile Saphendu – were shot like fish in a barrel while hemmed in a natural enclosure among the rocks.
Most were shot dead while hiding in the undergrowth, forensic investigations confirmed. The lifeless body of Nkosiyabo Xalabile, for example, lay wedged behind a boulder, his arms behind him, still crossed – as if they had been restrained in some way. His eyes were still open, suggesting the death had been a painful one.
Xalabile had been shot from above, an R5 bullet tearing through the bottom of the left side of his neck and exiting through his ribs. The shells of the bullets that killed him were found 2.8 metres away, above his body on some rocks. He was huddled at the foot of a tree, among bushes near the rock when he was killed.
He had not, as police later alleged, been attacking them. Nor did he appear to be armed: in early police pictures, there was no evidence of weapons associated with Xalabile. Those taken later showed two metal rods nearby.
Independent pathologists found Xalabile’s posture “with hands and wrists crossed at his lower back … (which was) exceedingly strange for a live person with these injuries to adopt”. They concluded that the nature of his wounds and his body positioning “opens the possibility that the deceased was handcuffed shortly after the injuries. It suggests that the handcuffs were removed prior to the [police] photography.”
Immediate or early medical attention could perhaps have saved Xalabile’s life, the pathologists concluded. This may have allowed him to recover and return to his wife of 19 days, Lilitha.
"Some mineworkers put their hands [in the] air to show they weren’t fighting/attacking the police officers but they were shot.”
In their closing arguments, the commission's evidence leaders described the actions of the police as a "free for all".
This appeared to have been perpetrated with impunity, and with scant regard for standing orders that require warnings before the use of live ammunition and for the lower body to be targeted.
Miners were shot at while hiding and even attempting to surrender.
They appear to have been fired on while presenting no immediate threat to the police officers. In a statement to the commission, miner Nkosikhona Mjuba, who survived scene two, said: “The police officers started shooting the mineworkers with long and short firearms. Some mineworkers put their hands [in the] air to show they weren’t fighting/attacking the police officers but they were shot.”
Recalling how he hid on the koppie almost three years ago, Siphete Phatsha (51) said police seemed to be hunting them down: “I could see police coming into the bushes and shooting at people hiding there. Where I was hiding, they couldn’t shoot at me, but I was waiting to die. I thought about my children and I thought about only one thing: that I am leaving my children, and that I am going to die,” he said.
The father of five from Nqeleni in the Eastern Cape had been at scene one when the Tactical Response Team line opened fire on the miners. He had walked off the koppie alongside strike leader Mgcineni Noki, whose face was then half blown away by high-velocity bullets, and Mzoxolo Magidiwana, who said that police had shot him down, and interrogated him before pumping further shots into his body, including two to the groin that mutilated his penis and scrotum. Phatsha was shot in the foot but managed to clamber into the cattle kraal at “scene one” to seek refuge with several other miners. There, he lay prostrate, pretending to be dead.
Bathini Nova, 25 at the time and a team leader at the Marikana mine’s Saffy Shaft, lay near him. Nova said that in the lull following the initial fusillade some police had seen them hiding in the kraal and fired into it. Nova and Phatsha eyes locked and motioned to each other to make a run for it. Scrambling over the thicket of branches that made up the kraal wall, they sprinted towards the small koppie. Along the way Phatsha’s big toe, which was hanging off his left foot after being shot, snagged a bush branch. He cut it off with his knife and continued his dash. The pair lost each other, but each found temporary safety in the koppie’s vegetation and nooks and crannies. Not for long. Bullets whizzed around them, smacking into rocks, bushes – and bodies. “I saw many people being shot while they were hiding,” said Nova, “so I thought if I surrendered, people would not kill me.” “I stood up with both my arms in the air and the first shot hit me in [the right side of] my chest. The next one hit me in the [left] shoulder and the third in my [fore-] arm,” said Nova. He was shot eight times while surrendering.
Shadrack Mtshamba, a rock-drill operator at Marikana’s Four Belt Shaft, huddled between two rocks quite close to Nova. He also witnessed another miner being mown down while surrendering: “One protester suggested that we should come out of the hiding place with our hands up,” Mtshamba said in a statement to the commission. “[The miner] said ‘Guys, let’s surrender’,” Mashamba stated. “He then went out of the group with his hands raised. He was shot on his hands or arms. He kneeled down and as he tried to stand up, still with his hands up, he was shot in the stomach and he fell down. He then tried to stand up but he was shot at again and he fell down. He tried to crawl but could not do so.”
None of the police leaders on the ground provided justifiable reasons for not halting the tactical operation after SAPS shot dead 17 people at “Scene 1”.
The South African Police Service did not give the commission reasons for killing the majority of the 17 miners at scene two, although the SAPS claimed self-defence in some cases. These claims were contested by lawyers for families of the deceased or challenged by forensic evidence. At a conference held at Roots, a Potchefstroom hotel, weeks after the massacre, police put together “Exhibit L”, the official SAPS version of events during the strike, for submission to the Farlam Commission. Large parts of it were later discredited. The Roots conference facilitator, Brigadier Nicolaas Van Graan, noted in an early version of a statement intended for submission to the commission that “[d]uring the meeting concern arose among the members that some of the deaths of people at the small koppie were unexplained”. In the margin, a police commander identified only by his or her serial number commented: “Delete this sentence. It will raise questions.” The police killings at “scene two” also extended to the planting of weapons on at least six dead miners, the Farlam Commission heard. “This was a totally unacceptable process,” the evidence leaders argued. They noted that in the case of one dead miner, Makosandile Mkhonjwa, this “involved adorning his body with four different weapons, none of which were anywhere in the vicinity of his body in the many earlier photographs that we have of his body.”
Two miners who had not yet taken refuge were shot dead by the National Intervention Unit under the command of Colonel Kaizer Modiba, which was sweeping towards the “killing koppie" from the east and Major General Ganasen Naidoo with the K9 Unit from the south-east. Police alleged that Thabiso Thelejane and Anele Mdizeni were killed while charging at them. Twenty-nine year-old Mdizeni’s body was found, face down, at the bottom of a large outcrop on the eastern side of the koppie. His legs were above his head; an abrasion on his left cheek suggested that he had fallen from the rocks higher up, or had been dragged around. An R5 bullet had torn through his right hip, perforating his pelvis. The cartridge was found 49 metres away from his body, in the direction from which the NIU was advancing. Its entry point suggested he was not facing the person who shot him – independent pathologists said they believed he was facing north, away from the NIU line, when he was shot.
The rock above Mdizeni was pock-marked with bullets, which suggested he had been fired upon repeatedly. The area around his crumpled body was littered with the blue cable-ties used by police and there were no weapons in his vicinity. It seemed likely that, instead of administering first aid after shooting him, Mdizeni had been restrained with the cable-ties. The independent pathologists concluded that Mdizeni would have survived if he had received immediate or prompt medical attention. Fifty-six-year-old Thabiso Thelejane was shot twice in the back of the head, leaving a gaping wound 2cm behind his right ear. A second high-velocity bullet struck him on the left side of the head, about 10cm above and 3cm behind his left ear. A third bullet entered his right buttock and lodged in the left side of his pelvis. There were also several abrasions on his knees and forehead. Thelejane’s body was found about 20 metres to the east of Mdizeni, also face down on the ground. There were no weapons around him.
The independent pathologists found that he was facing a north-westerly direction and running away from the NIU/K9 line when he was shot in the back of the head. Policing experts at the commission testified that after the killings at scene one, the police operation on August 16 should have been stopped immediately, or at least during the 15 minutes between the two sets of killings. According to his own testimony, Cees de Rover, the police’s own expert, was left in the dark by many police leaders about what they knew of the events of August 16. However, he noted that it “virtually goes without saying that SAPS doctrine and experience in crowd management dictate” that police leadership “call a halt to the police operations in a bid to re-group and reassess” after the killing at “scene one”. None of the police leaders on the ground provided justifiable reasons for not halting the tactical operation after SAPS shot dead 17 people at “scene one”. Despite the firing of about 300 live rounds at “scene one”, operational commander Brigadier Adriaan Calitz testified that he had not heard a single shot and was unaware that police had killed miners there. Two police members sitting with Calitz in his Nyala testified that they had heard the shots, however. The fusillade had also been audible on the police radio frequency, according to Lonmin security official Dirk Botes, who heard the shots while sitting in the Joint Operations Centre.
Calitz gave the order for police at “scene one” to “engage, engage, engage” over the commander’s radio and Botes testified that he “could hear directly after ‘engage’ that the shooting is [sic] taking place.” Major General William Mpembe, the overall commander on the day, told the commission that he was travelling to board a Lonmin helicopter to fly over the area when the shooting happened and had been unaware of it. North West police commissioner Lieutenant General Zukiswa Mbombo testified that she was in the toilet at the time and was, likewise, unaware of the “scene one” killings. Despite being in the Joint Operations Centre when Botes heard the fusillade over the radio, Major General Charl Annandale, the Joint Operations Centre chairperson, testified that he only knew about the killings about 45 minutes after the incident because of radio problems. Yet, less than eight minutes after the fusillade, Brigadier Suzette Pretorius, who was sitting with Ananndale in the Joint Operations Centre, sent a text message to an Independent Police Investigations Directorate official. It read: “Having operation at Wonderkop. Bad. Bodies. Please prepare your members as going to be bad.” The commission’s evidence leaders argued that Mbombo, Mpembe, Annandale and Calitz should all be held responsible for the 17 deaths at scene two.
Showhouses and shacks Life in a 'living hell'
ctivity keeps June’s morning shiver at bay on the public housing construction site in Marikana Extension Two. Bricks are being laid or tossed into the claw of an excavator for transportation elsewhere, cement is prepared, walls plastered, and fittings installed in the multi-storeyed blocks rising from the dust. Workers move with purpose, adding another layer of buzz to the drilling and the banging. Three houses stand still in this flurry: they are the show houses Lonmin managed to complete during the six years in which it promised to build 5 500 units for its employees in fulfilment of its social and labour plan obligations.
One of the show houses has an electric fence. The windows are closed and the curtains drawn. Across the road the other two houses huddle together against their looming diminution by the new structures around them. One, number 3372, is burnt black inside by protest. The ceiling has collapsed from the fire, adding a layer of charred rubble to the floor. The other is inhabited, but the world has been closed out with locked gates and windows. The lack of proper housing for workers who, in the main, lived in shack settlements surrounding its mining operation — and still do — was one of the driving factors behind the August 2012 strike at Lonmin that left 44 people dead. The squalor and deprivation of informal settlements like Nkaneng and Big House is highlighted by the imaginary games children play using heaps of plastic rubbish piled up along informal roads.
Homes are rudimentary shacks made from corrugated scrap metal, wood and cardboard. Despite a massive power station near Nkaneng, which serves Lonmin’s operation, there is no electricity in this settlement where thousands live. Wires for guerrilla electricity connections criss-cross underfoot. Water is sourced from one of the public taps placed sporadically around the community. Many of the standpipes have been dry since 2013 and locals murmur that a R900 payment to the right person will ensure a reconnection.
“This is a living hell,” says miner Siphete Phatsha, standing outside the rusted one-room shack he shares with his adult son and nephew, both unemployed job-seekers from the Eastern Cape. Phatsha walks “a long way” with his wheelbarrow to a communal tank to fill 25-litre drums with water for their daily use, and to quench the thirst of his tenderly cared for spinach garden. The garden helps supplement their Spartan meals that centre on stomach-filling pap. Employed by Lonmin since 2007, Patsha hankers after the dignity that a flush toilet and an electricity switch affords. A formal home with walls to discourage the winter cold would ease his joints and injuries sustained after police shot him during the 2012 strike.
"There is confusion. No one knows who the houses are for and we are all desperate"
At the Farlam Commission of Inquiry, Lonmin maintained that it had failed to build the 5 500 units because of the 2008 platinum price drop. Any plans to finally add to the three show-houses at Marikana Extension Two have been abandoned, however. In 2013, the company announced that it had donated the land, about 50 hectares with some serviced stands, to the government. A year later, the North West government pledged to build 2 000 houses over three years in the area. Set for handover in September, this project will see 292 Breaking New Ground houses — two-bedroomed units with an open-plan lounge and kitchen and bathroom with shower and toilet — built at a cost of R23-million. A further 126 apartment-style rental stock units are also being completed. But the development is causing anger and confusion in the community. This is rental stock for people earning between R800 and R3 500 a month. Miners, who have seen their salaries increase beyond this following the gains of the 2012 and 2014 strikes, do not qualify.
Unemployment and access to housing coalesced in angry protests two weeks ago when mainly young residents of ward 32 — which includes Marikana Extension Two —marched through Marikana town and barricaded the streets with burning tyres, tree branches and rocks. A 28-year-old female protester, who declined to give her name, said: “There is confusion because people say it’s houses for the community but Lonmin say it’s workers’ houses. There’s confusion; no-one knows who the houses are for and we are all desperate.” Another protester, 32 years old and female, complained: “Most of the jobs for building the RDP [sic] houses are going to outsiders, people from outside Marikana West, from outside Marikana, from outside Rustenburg, while we are unemployed.
“Lonmin also promised that a certain number of jobs would be filled by people from ward 32, but the councillor is selling the jobs to people from outside the community. All of them are going to the Bapong [ba Mogale, the local traditional community].” The protests had stalled construction for about two weeks, locals say, raising the ire of construction workers who allegedly attacked a public gathering of community members on June 12, causing them to flee. Lonmin’s 2010 annual report estimated that 50% of the population living within a 15km radius of its Marikana operation lived in informal housing and lacked access to basic services such as running water and electricity. The company provided formal housing, including hostels, for less than 10% of its directly employed staff, which numbered about 24 000 in 2012. Unemployment and access to housing coalesced in angry protests two weeks ago when mainly young residents of ward 32 — which includes Marikana Extension Two —marched through Marikana town and barricaded the streets with burning tyres, tree branches and rocks. A 28-year-old female protester, who declined to give her name, said: “There is confusion because people say it’s houses for the community but Lonmin say it’s workers’ houses. There’s confusion; no-one knows who the houses are for and we are all desperate.” Another protester, 32 years old and female, complained: “Most of the jobs for building the RDP [sic] houses are going to outsiders, people from outside Marikana West, from outside Marikana, from outside Rustenburg, while we are unemployed.
At the Farlam Commission of Inquiry, former Lonmin chief operating officer Mohamed Seedat conceded under cross-examination that housing conditions at Marikana were "truly appalling”. He also conceded that the Lonmin’s board and executive had, post facto, recognised the link between the critical shortage of affordable housing and the 2012 strike. Seedat maintained, however, that Lonmin’s social and labour plan (SLP) promises did not require the building of houses but were, rather, an obligation to broker an interaction between the company’s workers and private financial institutions so that the former could access mortgage bonds. The evidence leaders at the commission argued that Lonmin’s interpretation of their SLP obligations was “not credible” and inconsistent with the terms of the SLPs; the annual SLP reports Lonmin furnished to the department of mineral resources; the company’s sustainable development reports and its close-out report to the ministry after five years.
“This attempt by Lonmin to wash its hands of [a legally-binding] obligation that it repudiated must be rejected,” the evidence leaders stated in their closing heads of argument. Even on Lonmin’s “implausible” reading of their SLP obligations, the company appears to have failed. In October 2006 it announced to much fanfare and in the presence of Archbishop Desmond Tutu, that it had struck a R318-million housing deal with Rand Merchant Bank. The bank would put up the financing for housing for 3 000 workers, with Lonmin providing surety in the form of shares if workers were retrenched. The deal was never followed through. Lonmin ignored its SLP obligations, which were meant to compel mining companies to address structural problems within the mining sector, including the dehumanising migrant labour system, which breaks up nuclear families and contributes to social divisions.
Its transformation committee chairperson, then Lonmin non-executive director and current deputy president of the country, Cyril Ramaphosa, exercised oversight of Lonmin’s SLP obligations. Ramaphosa professed to not reading the SLP reports and being unaware of its failures at the commission. The department of mineral resources, meanwhile, appears incapable of exercising oversight to ensure that Lonmin, alongside many other mining companies, take a more human rights-based approach to transforming their workers’ lives.
The Human Rights Commission proposed that Judge Farlam recommend President Jacob Zuma “convene a task team/working group to undertake a full investigation of the underlying causes of the dire living conditions evident in mine-affected communities”
The South African Human Rights Commission, in its closing heads of argument submitted to the Farlam Commission, noted the “failure of the state, the department of mineral resources primarily, to monitor and enforce compliance with SLP obligations, as well as ensuring the necessary government co-operation and co-ordination required to successfully implement projects identified as part of an SLP”. Noting the “frequent failure by mining companies to comply with their SLP obligations” the Human Rights Commission bemoaned an amendment to Farlam’s terms of reference which divided its work into “phase one” (an investigation of the events of August 2012) and “phase two” (a broader investigation into the socio-economic context of the mining sector as a whole). The division, coupled with Lonmin’s refusal to hand over crucial company documents until very late in the Farlam hearings, or not at all, hamstrung the commission’s ability to make wide-ranging, transformative and human rights-based recommendations, the Human Rights Commission argued.
Lonmin was listed on the Johannesburg Stock Exchange’s 2012 socially responsible index, gaining “best performer” status for its social and environmental work. The Benchmarks Foundation’s Police Gap Seven report released in 2013 noted that between 2003-2007 most of the company’s “social capital” went into the Lonmin Community Trust Fund, “which was then rapidly closed down”. While crying post-2008 poverty, the mining house also appeared to be involved in some solipsistic bookkeeping. A report titled “The Bermuda Connection: Profit Shifting and Unaffordability at Lonmin 1999-2012”, compiled for the commission by the Alternative Information Centre’s Dirk Forslund, alleged large-scale tax avoidance through the movement of profits to a subsidiary in an off-shore tax haven, Western Metal Sales.
Despite having two major buyers for its platinum, the company’s South African subsidiary, Western Platinum Limited, which produces the majority of the company’s platinum group metals was, until 2007, paying 2% of its turnover to Western Metal Sales, registered in Bermuda, as sales commission for marketing services. From 2008 to 2012 this commission totalled R1.2-billion. The evidence leaders calculated that in 2006-2011, when Lonmin could have built the 5 500 houses for its employees at a cost of R665-million, it had spent R1.3-billion on “marketing” commissions to a subsidiary. The Human Rights Commission proposed that retired judge Ian Farlam recommend a full investigation into Lonmin’s SLP compliance. It further proposed that Farlam recommend President Jacob Zuma “convene a task team/ working group to undertake a full investigation of the underlying causes of the dire living conditions evident in mine-affected communities” and the department of mineral resources “undertake a strategic and detailed review of the deficiencies and failures of the SLP system identified in the commission’s work, and to propose amendments, revisions or new initiatives to improve compliance with the legal and regulatory framework that establishes the SLP
A time of retrenchments Marikana in 2015
On a February morning this year the two-and-a-half metre high postbox outside Lonmin’s recruitment centre in Middlekraal is overflowing with the curriculum vitae of the unemployed desperates. The words "Experienced Operators” are scrawled in black felt-tipped pen over two pigeon-holes and "Inexperienced General” over another two. All four are crammed with paper. At 7am, about 250 men, and a handful of women, are huddled against the drizzle under umbrellas and hoodies for the familiar ritual that will start in an hour: at 7.55am a Lonmin official emerges from the gated office, stands above the crowd on a thigh-high boulder and calls out a list of names. These are people the company will consider hiring for jobs ranging from rock-drill operators (RDOs) to cleaning staff. Murmurs grow with each name read out — less than 15 names are called.
There are whoops of relief and the chosen ones move through the throng at the gates. Eventually, the chosen squeeze through a small gap while Lonmin security ensures chancers, interlopers and the disgruntled remain outside. For the few, medical screening and training will begin. For the rest, it is a despondency that may well be repeated tomorrow and the days after that. Some of the hopefuls, like Silverton Mfulani, have been coming for their daily dose of rejection for several years. A former miner at Anglo Platinum, the father of four from the Eastern Cape is sceptical of the selection process. “The problem is that there is a king here, who is insisting that people from here, Tswana people, get all the jobs. They are eating all the jobs,” he says referring to the Bapong Ga Mogale traditional authority on whose land Lonmin is mining.
Four years of unemployment lend a bitterness to Mfulani’s sense of helplessness, and “pain”, at not being able to provide for his family. But the prevailing sentiment among the large number of unemployed migrants from areas like the Eastern Cape and Lesotho is that these days, if you are local, you are more lekker at Lonmin. At 8.34am the official returns for a question-and-answer session. A chancer pipes up that the company has, obviously, lost his CV since he has not been called, he is dismissed with a curt “we can’t do anything about that”.
Another hopeful, who has been registered as a potential employee at Lonmin, gripes that he has not been summoned for the next step in the process, the medical tests. “You must be patient,” says the manager, who is dressed in slacks, a semi-formal shirt and a large watch, which appears de rigueur Lonmin management uniform. “We only take 50 people a day: RDOS and winch operators first, and then we will decide about the rest.”
"I tell my children that no one must be impressed about working underground or think it is a priority job”
A few more people highlight problems with Lonmin’s sifting process or plead about why they have not been hired before the meeting dissipates slowly. The job-seekers have many complaints about the process. Some feel it is rigged and that money, or a connection to local councillors or traditional authority, will facilitate employment. Two say they have been conned out of a few thousand rands by opportunists who have guaranteed jobs, but disappeared with their money.
All are desperate to be employed. Jeremiah Mosala (50) from North West, who has previously worked at Northam and Aquarius mines says he is “depressed” because he comes to the recruitment centre daily only “to see other people get employed. Then I have to return home and call my family and say: ‘Eish, there is no food, go to school without eating, go to sleep hungry.’” The father of six school-going children, who has been going to the recruitment centre since 2013, says he eats one meal a day, usually cabbage and pap, and dissuades his children from even considering working in the mines. “The problem is that once you are in the mining sector the development of a person is in mining, there are no other options ... I tell my children that no one must be impressed about working underground or think it is a priority job.”
Zwelethu Nontsane (30), from Nqeleni in the Eastern Cape, has been a migrant worker his entire adult life. He worked as a cleaner in Camperdown in KwaZulu-Natal and in Shakaskraal on the north coast as a labourer cutting sugar-cane. He arrived in Marikana in December 2014 because he “heard there is money here”. “There are no jobs in the Eastern Cape,” Nontsane says of his itinerant lifestyle. “There are no factories, no farms and the government projects there never work because tenders are only for the ‘family’; the politically connected.”
By June the post-box slits have been closed off with plastic tape. They are empty, as is the clearing outside the recruitment office where just a few months earlier people had gathered every morning. With Lonmin announcing retrenchments of up to 3 500 workers, the company is no longer hiring. Some miners who spoke to the M&G said they were considering taking the packages offered by the company and cashing in their provident funds to settle their debts before heading off to another mine to find work again. Despite the looming retrenchments, every day brings more hopefuls to the derelict mining town. Most job seekers say they depend on the goodwill of working friends to get through the months of unemployment. They also receive “reverse remittances” from families in the rural areas who send their precious social grant money, to pay for food and shack accommodation that costs as much as R300 a month.
Migrant labourers have sent portions of their salaries to families in the rural areas since they first started taking the trains to the hinterland’s mines. During the five-month platinum belt strike in 2014, the longest in South Africa’s history, this practice was reversed, with families sending portions of child support grants and pensions to workers.
"The days close to pay-day stresses me. I must decide who I am going to pay and who I won’t. I pay who I can. Who I can’t pay I negotiate with for next month”
The deal struck last year, which will see miners earn a minimum R12 500 a month by 2017, has ensured workers have more to spend, to send home and to repay mounting debts. Siphete Phatsha, a miner who was shot at “scene one” on August 16 2012, says after last year’s increases, he has managed to pay off the R4 000 debt he had accumulated before the 2012 strike. The strike hit miners hard, however. Some are still paying back rental arrears, with interest. Garnishee orders continue to eviscerate their bank accounts and many are trapped in a cycle of debt. Xolani Gumbi (not his real name), who works for Lonmin sub-contractor Fraser Alexander, says he is still taking home about R2 000 per month. “It's still apartheid there,” he says of his employers. Gumbi borrows from Standard Bank, because the interest rate is low, and from Theba Limited, the labour recruitment company whose controlling shareholder is James Motlatsi, the founding president of the National Union of Mineworkers.
He also borrows from informal microlenders who, in Marikana, can charge up to 50% interest on a loan. "If I borrow R100, I must pay back R150 at month-end,” he says. "The days close to pay-day stresses me. I must decide who I am going to pay and who I won’t. I pay who I can. Who I can’t pay I negotiate with for next month.”
As with most mining towns where the work can be brutal, life in Marikana is hard and fast. The adrenaline-charged physicality of drilling combined with depressing living conditions and the relentless boredom for lack of entertainment means socialising options are either the church or the tavern. For many, money is not permanent. Nothing is. Money moves quickly — especially on alcohol and prostitutes. Shared cigarettes are drawn hard, to their very butts. The shebeens resemble Wild West saloons filled with prospectors of a different kind, and another time. Some start filling up as soon as the first workers clock off from their shifts in the mornings. They are raucous places with men lurching drunkenly at women to be possessed for instant gratification, and with the occasional edge of alcohol-fuelled violence. On a Wednesday night at a shebeen in the Big House settlement, named after the abandoned farm houses that have now been divided into single-room living quarters, a punter philosophises: “Live in the now, live for today,” he says, “and be careful of the women. It's pay day, so the platinum and gold diggers have diggers.”
After the 2014 strike settlement, prostitutes increased their prices from R70 to up to R150, a local says. A 2012 Benchmarks report released around the time of the Lonmin strike noted the “strong gender bias in mining with a lack of employment opportunities for women”. This, combined with the “high unemployment rate amongst local people and the exceptionally low income of families makes sex work one of the many survival strategies of households” in the platinum belt. The report had red-flagged the trend of “mothers renting out their daughters to mineworkers” and media reports of young girls from Mozambique being trafficked as sex slaves into the platinum mining areas. A 2010 International Organisation on Migration report noted the practice of ngoanatsela among Basotho mineworkers who would bring young girls from their villages in Lesotho with them as “girlfriends” and then make them available to a group of mineworkers from the same region.To be a woman in Marikana is dangerous and limiting. Yet, many continue to demonstrate agency in this penury.
On a pay-day Friday in February, Asonele Macebo (28) is busking outside the KFC in Marikana town. With a guitar over her shoulder and dancers at her back, she is miming songs her band, Mfasi we Phepha (Women of Paper) has recorded at a start-up shack studio in Nkaneng. The music thumps from speakers hooked up to a borrowed generator. Macebo mouths songs about the president of the Association of Mineworkers and Construction Union, Joseph Mathunjwa, and how the union’s leading of the platinum belt strikes have made it famous in neighbouring countries. There is a song about the August 16 2012 massacre of 34 miners by police at Marikana. “We hate the police because the police are killers,” sings Macebo. “I felt a lot of pain about what happened in Marikana in 2012,” she says, “that's why I wrote this song.” Macebo arrived in Marikana from Mqanduli in the Eastern Cape in 2011 and soon became disillusioned by the lack of job opportunities in the town. “I don’t let men get aggressive or harass me,” she says. “But it's hard as a woman in Marikana. It's very painful and if you are not working it is distressing.”
Macebo has wanted to be a singer since childhood and after watching the founders of the shack studio, Ayuvile Ngcobo and Isaac Ntozakha of the band Madladiya, busk, she “made a plan to perform” her brand of Xhosa maskandi. Unemployment had also spurred Ngcobo and Ntozakha, who was fired from a security guard job, towards attempting music careers. By running a printing service for CVs — big business in a town full of jobseekers — the duo saved money to accumulate music and recording instruments to set up their studio. They record a variety of music performed by locals, including kwaito, and sell their CDs while busking at Marikana’s shopping centres around pay day. A huge crowd gathers to witness the music and dance and people slip coins and R10 notes into a cardboard box on the carpark floor. Music of a different kind echoes through the St John’s Apostolic Mission Church on a Wednesday night. Hymns are sung by the congregants in the almost church very close to the cattle kraal where the police killed 17 miners on August 16 almost three years ago.
Duduzile Malahle, a pastor in the church who also runs Thusa Nani (Helping Each Other), a non-governmental organisation providing temporary accommodation for the destitute and a soup kitchen, says the church was always full during the 2014 miners’ strike. “We had a lot of people coming here, begging for food. Most people came here during the strike because of starvation, not because of God.”
Malahle says Thusa Nani runs an empowerment programme for women, that also includes HIV/Aids counselling. “There is a lot of unemployment here and prostitution is high because women come from the Eastern Cape and Lesotho and there are no jobs, so they see prostitution as a way of surviving. “Anti-retrovirals are easily available, but there is no support, no counselling, no food for women. The miners get taken care of by the mines, but we take care of the women,” she says. “The miners are harder than the rocks they are working. They are very, very stubborn. Because they are stubborn, we teach the women that if he is feeding you, you can’t say no [to unprotected sex]. If you feed yourself, you can say no ... I am working for myself, I feed myself,” says Malahle.
"You hear gunshots but can't see who is shooting. In the morning you find someone dead. Government must install electricity for our safety."
The street barricades and protests remain a constant in Marikana. In February this year residents of Bleskop, an informal settlement situated between Lonmin’s operation and Anglo Platinum’s Western Hub, took to the streets with stones and fire to protest against the Madibeng Municipality’s inability to electrify their settlement. “At night this place is in darkness and the tsotsis come out,” says a 23-year-old youth. “You hear gunshots but can’t see who is shooting. In the morning you find someone dead. Government must install electricity for our safety.” He estimates that seven people have been murdered in Bleskop in the first two months of the year. In June, Ward 32 residents in Marikana took to the streets almost daily for two weeks, demanding clarity from Lonmin, and their local councillor, about employment opportunities at the mine and housing allocations at the new public housing project in Marikana Extension Two which is expected to be completed later this year.
The National Union of Mineworkers (NUM), once the largest union in the area, has all but disappeared from Marikana. Street vendors sell Association of Mineworkers and Construction Union (Amcu) and Economic Freedom Fighters T-shirts and people walk around with “Remember the Slain of Marikana” tops. Amcu appear to have captured the imagination of the town. Mzoxolo Magidiwana, a striking miner who was shot eight times at “scene one” on August 16, says the union has made a “big difference” to the lives of workers and the surrounding communities. He adds that the union members must remain vigilant against the sort of alleged co-option and corruption that brought down NUM. “I am worried about how the members conduct themselves,” he says. “People in leadership are still workers, their position is representing the workers. But when you are there with the capitalists they try and teach you how to eat the money, and because you are poor you choose the money over the workers.
"It's a problem that all trade unions face. But because the workers identified these problems with NUM and chose to leave NUM, we can identify these problems. NUM leaders saw the union as a way to get into parliament. For Amcu, it is about working to build a union.” On a crisp, clear, Saturday morning, miner Monaheng Moroke, who participated in both the 2012 and 2014 strikes, is being buried in a cemetery on the edges of Marikana West. The 39 year-old, nick-named Lucky, had spent his entire life in Marikana and died from cancer. As his body is lowered into the ground, Moroke’s brother, Hosei, walks towards the large piles of earth excavated from the mine shafts, which now appear as blue mountains in the distance. Hosei lights a cigarette during this moment of communion, inhaling deeply. Life fluctuates like stock exchange prices in Marikana, where the only certainty is death.