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Five years on: Marikana residents still live in dire conditions

August 16, 2017 5:27 AM
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Five years on: Marikana residents still live in dire conditions

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, where most of them are employed.

It is a few kilometres away from the koppie where many mine workers lost their lives.

Now the koppie is almost unnoticeable unless someone reminds the locals of August 16, 2012.

On August 16, 34 miners were gunned down by police officers. Most of the miners were shot in cold blood in the back.

By the end of the strike, 44 people died. Velile Mkhonto, 52, who was present on that fateful day, said he started working for Lonmin in 2010.

Mkhonto is originally from uMhlabuyalingana in KwaZulu-Natal. The dirt roads and bush next to Mkhonto are lined with skinny cattle.

Some of the locals make use of a water massive tank to get water and do their washing. The young children play barefoot between the shacks.

His hands indicate a hard-working man who laboured diligently to support his family. Speaking about August 16, his voice broke in despair.

It is as if he is suddenly reminded of how grateful he is to have survived the brutal massacre. Mkhonto was on the koppie where they sat day and night, covered in blankets.

They would sneak away for a few minutes to get something to eat and then head straight back.

"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 said.

He said he was one of the lucky ones to have escaped the attack, while the rest of the mine workers lay like clothes scattered across the ground.

Most of them died a few metres away from the koppie, where around 3 000 striking mine workers carrying sharp weapons gathered during the strike.

Mine workers at Lonmin were unhappy about their salaries - general workers reportedly took home less than R3 500 per month and rock drillers earned less than R8 000 a month.

Five years later, mine workers have surpassed the salary demands they were fighting for in 2012.

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

The father of five said he now earned enough to support his family back in KwaZulu-Natal.

Leah Mashaba, a struggling businesswoman in the area, said there weren't many job opportunities for the community. The 26-year-old owns a local hair salon a few metres away 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," Mashaba said.

Mashaba said the father of her two children is an engineer at the Rowland shaft. He was also present on the day of the massacre.

"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 said.

She said her partner was fortunate to escape the attack. Duduzile Malahle, 46, arrived in Marikana from the Eastern Cape in 2008.

Malahle is the pastor at the St John's church. She said she remained hopeful that things would change.

"Life is not great but we keep pushing to whatever brought us to Wonderkop. Children have it the hardest here. There are no jobs and people are hungry," she said.

However, Malahle said moving on from August 16, despite it being five years later, was the hardest.

"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," she said.

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 said he was not present on the day but prayed for those on the koppie. He works piece jobs to send some money home to his family in the Eastern Cape.

"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," he said.

The father of three daughters said they have no water and electricity.

He believes that the koppie needs to be turned into something more memorable for 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 said in despair.

During Democratic Alliance leader Mmusi Maimane's visit to the locals on Tuesday morning, Maimane 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.

Maimane said a change beyond 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 build and water can be delivered. The sooner we bring that change, the better."


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