Grief as Marikana victims remembered

The Farlam commission reached a state of extreme distress on Wednesday. Family members fainted and wailed as they each got a turn to remember their loved ones who died at Marikana two years ago. Equally distraught miners and lawyers could be seen comforting them during the lunch break.

Each family has been afforded the opportunity to give a five-minute presentation on their deceased loved ones, revealing intimate details about their personalities, their dependants, how each family found out about the death and what their lives have been like since their loss.

Police fatally shot 34 miners and injured over 70 on August 16 2012 during an unprotected strike at Lonmin’s platinum mine in Marikana. In the preceding week, 10 people, including miners, police officers and Lonmin security guards, were killed. All the families will have an opportunity on Wednesday and Thursday to show their presentations.

‘We have to get closure’
As a photo of Warrant Officer Tsietsi Monene was projected onto a screen inside the chamber, his sister, Lizzy Maubane clutched her brown South African Police Service (SAPS) teddy. Monene was one of the police officers killed by strikers during a clash between the two groups on August 13 2012.

Monene had six children between the ages of two and 27 years old, and also helped to support his extended family. Maubane recalled how her brother had called her and his wife on the morning of August 13 to tell them he was being deployed to Marikana.

Although each family’s statement was read by their lawyer, they also had a chance to address the commission themselves if they wished to.

“It’s a dark day for the Monene family, we will never celebrate this day,” Maubane said, referring to today being the second anniversary of her brother’s death. “It’s my deepest sympathy to all the people that were killed in Marikana. Let the Almighty bless us. We have to get closure for what happened in Marikana,” she added, her voice catching.

Families still in mourning
Another police widow, Petunia Lepaaku, recalled how she saw her injured husband, Warrant Officer Sello Lepaaku, on the evening TV news on August 13. He was being carried away from the scene by his colleagues. “I tried to call him, but his cellphone remained unanswered,” Petunia’s statement says. The 45-year-old Lepaaku died on his way to hospital.

“He and I were meant to be together … he was a supportive husband,” says Petunia. His family remembers Sello as being well-loved, very generous and kind hearted. He was not only the bread winner for his wife and three children, but also his three sisters, brother and mother.

According to Petunia, Lepaaku’s 17-year-old son is struggling without his father, while his five-year-old daughter keeps asking when he is coming home from work.

He will also be missed by the SAPS. Lepaaku received three medals during his policing career – two loyal service medals and one commemoration medal.

All the family members still cling to small details about their lost loves. Some recall how their family member loved soccer, others remember how they were loved by their communities.

Makhonsandile Mkhonjwa, from Bizana in the Eastern Cape, was one of those killed on August 16. His family recalls how he loved to do handy work and was building a house for them, which is still unfinished.

Mkhonjwa was the sole breadwinner for his family. “We have no closure, and what’s even worse is we have nothing to eat,” said Mkhonjwa’s wife.

Mkhonjwa would phone his wife every day during the 2012 strike and explain to her how hard he worked, but how little he earned. After he was killed, the mortuary would only show the family Mkhonjwa’s face and not his body and gave them Mkhonjwa’s bloodied clothes in a bag.

Traumatic scene
Some of the families described in detail the traumatic scenes that met them when they went to the mortuary. Bodies piled on top of each other in an inhumane way, with blood still oozing from the corpses.

Body C at scene one on August 16 is now what Thobisile Zibambele is known as. His widow, Nokuthula, told how he loved the church and always kept in close contact with his family. “My husband liked phoning us when there was a big soccer match,” Nokuthula said.

Nokuthula and Thobisile had 10 children together. Thobisile often spoke of how his meagre salary prevented him from giving his children a decent life. Nokuthula said she does not know how she’ll pay for her oldest child’s tertiary education as Thobisile was going to do this. The child is from her previous relationship.

Nokuthula recalled how Thobisile had given her his bank details and pin code two days before he was killed. “It’s as though he knew he was going to die,” she said.

Search for answers
Another widow, Matsepang Ntsoale, was too scared to watch TV or listen to the radio during the 2012 Marikana strike – afraid of what she would hear. When her husband, 40-year-old Molefi Ntsoele, called at the end of each day, she would breathe a sigh of relief.

But on the night of August 16 her phone didn’t ring. It was only on August 19 that she found out he had been killed in the strike. Some of Molefi’s colleagues told Matsepang her husband had been run over by a hippo (nyala), others say he was shot. She still doesn’t know the truth.

Matsepang also wasn’t allowed to view her husband’s body, but she was distressed by his blackened face and the wound on his head.

“He was a hardworking man and made a difference wherever he was,” says Matsepang. “He was responsible for school fees, groceries, clothes and building our home. He wanted our children to have the best education and took them to the best schools he could afford.”

Matsepang’s mind is plagued by what happened to her husband. She wants to know who is responsible for his death and wants Lonmin to provide for her family the way her husband did.

Throughout the presentations, the grief is evident. One family’s loved one is pictured in an orange frame with a big red heart printed onto it. Many families speak of the worry and confusion that consumed them in the days after the massacre as they waited to hear from their loved ones. The majority of them report that they were not informed by Lonmin of the deaths. Some found out on the news, others went from hostel to hospital to mortuary searching for them. Most only found out about the news a few days after the actual killing had taken place.

Many have reported being treated for depression after the death of their loved ones. One widow even told how she tried to commit suicide by drinking pesticides after finding out about her husband’s death.

But they all want to know who the perpetrators where, what exactly happened and why. And they all want justice.

On the first anniversary of the Marikana massacre, the Mail & Guardian published a series on the lives and surviving families of those who died in August 2012. Visit to read their stories.

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