Marikana's worn-down widows just want closure
Three rows on the left of the room are filled mostly by women. They sit hunched over; some wear doeks on their heads, others have blankets tucked over their knees and they all wear headphones to listen to the translation of proceedings.
These are the widows and other family members of the murdered Marikana miners. Every day they file religiously into the room at the City of Tshwane's municipal offices in Centurion, where the Marikana commission of inquiry is being held, and silently leave at the end of the day.
It is difficult to tell what's going through their minds – for the most part, their faces remain expressionless. Sometimes a woman will leave the room after a warning is given about graphic photographs or videos to be shown to the commission as evidence. Some sit with their eyes squeezed tightly closed.
"I feel helpless," says Bhuti Hendrik Sagalala, who is one of the few men in the group of family members. "I go to the commission to listen to what's being told. I can't deny anything that's being said."
Sagalala's father was one of the miners killed at Marikana.
"It would make a difference if we were given an opportunity to say what we're feeling. I would raise a point that most people who were killed on that day were people who were carrying pangas. My father had no weapons. It's sad because he was not a violent or aggressive person," Sagalala says.
Others struggle to concentrate as their minds often flit to what is happening back home.
"We have left our children at home … we have to be here," Mary Langa says. "The children are expecting us to bring something home. They don't understand the commission; they think we're away working. It's pretty bad for us but there's nothing else we can do."
Langa has seven children and, like the other widows, her husband was the family's breadwinner. In an impassioned outburst at a second Marikana seminar two weeks ago, Langa said it would have been better if the money spent on the commission was given to the families instead.
"At home, I sleep on the floor. Where I stay now, you choose what you eat. At home, there is no food," she told the audience, comparing the conditions at her home in Mpumalanga to those at the Pretoria hotel where the families are being housed.
Four of the widows who spoke to the M&G agree with Langa.
"We will sit at the hotel eating nice food and get a phone call from home saying there's no food; then I feel like just dropping the food," Zameka Nungu says.
Many feel the commission, which started in October 2012, has dragged on for too long and made no progress, while things at home have come to a standstill. But there is something keeping them here.
"I want to know how and why our husbands were killed. So the commission is important," Nokuthula Zibambele says. "If the kids want to know one day, I'll be able to tell them."
They all want the truth, closure and some form of justice and compensation.
"Obviously it's clear the truth won't come out," says Sagalala.
Nandipha Gunuza adds that, with the footage taken at Marikana, the commission is not needed. "They should have called it quits. You can see the police were not attacked as was claimed."
She says it's becoming increasingly difficult to sit through the commission.
"If the commission doesn't come to an end soon, it will make us all sick, literally. It's not easy to sit there when they are telling how our husbands were killed. When the witnesses on the stand are lying, I want to get up there and tell them. It's sickening to hear the lies the police say," she says, her voice raw with grief.
Gunuza has left a small baby, who was born a few days before her husband was killed, back home in Lady Frere in the Eastern Cape.
(Pictures by Paul Botes)
Langa pulls out her husband's Lonmin ID card and her eyes well up with tears. "My pain comes most because no mention is made of my husband's name in the commission. They mention the other ladies' husbands but never my own, so I don't know why I have to be here; it brings me so much pain.
"We sit here like ghosts, we do nothing, say nothing, just like ghosts.""If the commission doesn't end soon, it will make us all sick. It's not easy to sit there when they are telling how our husbands were killed"