Gillian Schutte
Gillian Schutte

No one’s safe in Marikana

I met Marikana community member, mineworker and activist Tsepo M at a coffee shop in Melville. He had some business to attend to in Johannesburg and a colleague set up the meeting for me to discuss the current situation in Marikana.

A man in his late 50s, Tsepo’s face bears the markings of years of hard work and struggle.

He tells me that he has been attending the Farlam Commission – an intense situation, which is infused with painful moments and trauma. In addition to the struggles of the community members and witnesses in getting to the commission, many are the victims of the psychological and physical warfare being waged on the participants by the police.

He describes one such incident when he and a group of about 40 residents were coming back home from the commission. When they reached their village they were ambushed by a group of armed police officers who forced them all to lie on the ground. What followed after was what seemed like an hour of taunting and abuse as policemen threatened them by holding guns to their heads and whispering in their ears that they would end up like those massacred in September. They were told not to look at the faces of the police and kicked and slapped. Their identity books were checked and their names recorded. The message was clear – they were being watched – they were being tailed and no one is safe in Marikana.

Tsepo suggested to the group who were with him when this happened that they go to the police station to report – but almost all said they were too terrified to do this.

“It is happening intermittently,” he says. “We never really know when they will pounce on us.”

This is an ongoing war on the people of Marikana – to weaken their resolve. “It is terrifying,” Tsepo tells me. “We are living as if we are back in the days of apartheid – constant fear. Women are terrified. They do not escape the intimidation, physical and emotional, dished out by the police. To us it is clear that they work on behalf of the capitalists.”

I ask him if he is able to verify the rumours that women were being raped by the police in Marikana. He answers that this is the most difficult thing to verify because women are mostly way too afraid to speak out. He did hear these stories and one woman who spoke of it eventually fled the village. “It is the whole matter of the community shame. Once you have been raped the community will treat you differently. How will they look at your husband? Even those women whose husbands were shot will not talk about it if they were raped.”

“Women have a very hard time in communities like ours. They are vulnerable to rape and exploitation. There are cases of sexual contracts between men and unemployed women and sometimes daughters are sold for sex. It is sheer economics and poverty that drive women this far. Also the rates of literacy are very low on this mine so women have few options for work. Those who go underground also become vulnerable to abuse. You know and this all leads to unsafe sex and a high prevalence of HIV.”

Tsepo tells me that the literacy rates on mines are low. “This is because of the history of migrant labour. If you bring in men from other provinces you do not have their families to look after so it suits the mine owners to not employ from the local area. They just have never bothered to change anything since then. It is clear that families live around the mine but they still have not built a crèche or a school. The one local school in Mooi Nooi is really for those in supervisory positions and our kids do not get to go there. It is a real procedure to get into the school and it depends on who you know.”

I ask Tsepo about the experience of living with no services. His face darkens. He tells me that there are some services at the hostels but that is all. There are about five toilets to every 80 men. The toilets are door-less. I enquire as to who removed the doors and he tells me that there were never any doors. “It cuts costs to have no doors – but for us it tells us that they think we are not the same as white people – that we do not need privacy like them.”

I feel my heart shrink. There are times when I hate my own kind and what they have done to the indigenous people of South Africa. I want to know from Tsepo what it is like to know that there is so little value placed on the life of a black worker in South Africa. He looks me in the eye and describes the pain. “It hurts you know. Really it hurts. It is like they think we have no ambitions – that we accept and deserve to live like dogs … or maybe they think we do not notice or mind the fact that we live in shacks. That is not true – we have needs like any other human. We want a better life for our children. We want to live a decent life of our own. We want toilets with doors, access to water and housing.”

“As it is we can only fetch water at midnight because the mine is using the water up until then and we have no pressure. You will see little children walking to taps far away from their homes to collect water at this time. Here it seems that human rights do not apply.”

I tell him that if I were him I would see the white man as the main enemy – yet I never heard the terms “white” in any of the struggle songs sang during the strike.

“No, they were there – we refer to them as the employers and we all know who the employers are.”

I ask how the community feels about Cyril Ramaphosa’s betrayal of them. “We are very disappointed that he has never even bothered to interact with us. When he was given shares he should have come to us and asked what we needed. He could have put plans and pressure in place to help us with education and infrastructure. But he did not. Instead he gave the order to deal with us like animals going to the slaughter.”

Tsepo and other workers from mines are currently organising into worker-support committees. “This is what will create solidarity with all workers around South African mines and give us autonomy. You know, we took it for a long time but the anger was building and building inside us. That is why the strikes happened. We are still angry and we will never accept this treatment again. It is the workers who will stand up for their own rights now through our autonomous structures. We are human beings and we demand to be treated as such. I know that the world sees us as boys when it suits them and as savage men when we stand up for our rights. We are human beings. We are fathers. We are men.”

**The name of the interviewee has been changed to protect his identity for fear of further police intimidation.

This was first published on the South African Civil Society Information Service website.

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    • http://none Lyndall Beddy

      At least we have a Commission investigating into Marikana and the mines.

      I would like to see Helen Zille set up a similar Commission for the Farms of the Western Cape as well. The situation looks the same to me – intimidation, violence, destruction of property, and migrant labour through labour brokers.

    • http://none Lyndall Beddy

      Mbeki said “Africa Your Time Has Come”

      Maybe he should have said “Africa you can come and share in the looting”? Except there was not as much loot to share as they thought, and the migrant workers are not happy with their share!

    • Dave Harris

      Unfortunately the police are not as evil as we make them out to be. The genesis of the Marikana tragedy and continuing unrests in the industry can be traced to the corporate mining conglomerates who, addicted to cheap labor, use underhanded tactics to divide and conquer instead of paying a living wage. The vicious infighting between the unions are proof of this.

      Hopefully the commission of inquiry can uncover the root CAUSES of this barbaric act. WHO issued the order to use live ammunition? WHY were they pressured into making this surprising decision since most of us are keenly aware of the importance of protest given our country’s history. Could it be because of Lonmin’s decisions? Also knowing WHAT extenuating factors led to the degeneration of this situation is crucial prevent future incidences. Why was Lonmin’s CEO, Ian Farmer, mysteriously hospitalized on that very day for “serious health issues”? Our media continues to pontificate about all the other reasons for this horror, point fingers at the government, scapegoat Cyril Ramaphosa (most likely a minority shareholder), the police (probably infested with mining security), miners, unions and even the commission of inquiry but NEVER investigate Lonmin management! Yep, that’s why its called CORPORATE media!

    • The Creator

      It might all be true, or every word might be a lie. You can’t tell whether your interviewee is telling the truth from the comfort of a coffee-house in Melville.

      It is, however, worth noting that the bit about Cyril Ramaphosa is clearly a lie, and plays into the widespread disinformation being promoted in the field. Therefore, I suspect that this guy has been told what to say, and was aware that the person who would interview him was too biassed and lazy to check the facts out.

    • The Critical Cynic

      @Dave Harris – I largely agree with your impassioned comments and there are many who would like to know the real truth of this situation. My question is how come you are not equally impassioned in finding the culprits responsible for looting over R20bn from the state coffers each year – an amount that makes building ‘compounds’ or presidential residential estates pale into almost (but not quite) insignificance and could have gone a long way to uplifting many poor people.

      How come you aren’t appalled at the AG reports and appear to have no real issue with the current levels of corruption and crime. Don’t you think that if some of these issues were being addressed (and rectified) there would be more energy to spend on the [I agree, the important] issues of land reform and slow economic transformation? It’s all connected after all….

    • ntozakhona

      Marikana, De Doorns are just a taste of what we are asking for if we continue to undermine the humanity of others. The service delivery protests that we celebrate are going to be a picnic compared to what we are provoking.

    • http://none Lyndall Beddy

      No-one is safe anywhere at the moment.

      Agitators don’t need to earn wages – they will already have been paid!
      The agitators on the farms apparently come from Lesotho and Zimbabwe; the ones on the mines from Lesotho and Swaziland.

      If this destabilisation follows historic prescendent they would have been paid half their earnings before they left home, and will only get the other half when they get back – so they will agitate for ever to earn their real “wages” which are probably far in excess of any legal “wages”.

    • The Critical Cynic

      Farm workers demanding pay of R70 per day – it makes the mineworkers look distinctly greedy, but in reality is an indictment on the farmers who are getting away with paying such a pittance. Even if the workers do get the R70 per day they are asking for it equates to less than R2000 per month and is ridiculously low. So, the farmers are to blame for continuing to pay such low salaries and the government are to blame for not having done something about this inequality after so many years of so-called political power and democratic freedom. But with neither party doing anything tangible to address the situation it eventually explodes into another protest of frustration at NON-DELIVERY, the one thing South Africans across the board (even at farm worker level) are brilliant at.

    • http://none Lyndall Beddy

      The Critical Cynic

      Firstly these are not permanent farm workers with trained skills, but seasonal workers with no skills brought in for only a few months for the harvest. R70 is the minimum wage set by the ANC and many farmers pay more. Plus the wage is after supplying other services and also after paying the labour brokers.

    • Momma Cyndi

      Dave Harris #

      Ian Farmer had a heart attack. Nothing ‘mysterious’ about it. You may be iron man and able to carry on working through a cardiac arrest but most of us mere mortals can’t.

      Unfortunately, the whole commission is turning into a grandstanding occasion and it is unlikely that we will ever know what really caused the whole thing to erupt.

    • nguni

      Lonmin is a huge organisation, if the CEO was ill then his deputy should have been able to cope with critical issues immediately. No doubt poor management contributed to this debacle, but not necessarily in the sinister way that DH is hinting at.