Speaking truth to power: Nomawethu Ma’Bhengu Sompeta deserved to see her son’s killers brought to justice. (Paul Botes/M&G)
Nomawethu Ma’Bhengu Sompeta was a fierce woman with opinions as strong as her will and as sharp as her tongue.
On 16 August 2012, her son Mzukisi was killed when police massacred 34 striking mineworkers at Marikana. Two weeks after she buried their son, Sompeta’s husband Mxolisi died from a heart attack triggered by watching news clips of the incident on television at their homestead in Lusikisiki in the Eastern Cape.
Mzukisi Sompeta died at the police shooting of mineworkers at the cattle kraal, or “scene one”, which was relayed to horrified South Africans by news cameras.
Eight years ago Ma’Bhengu Sompeta was unequivocal about how the government had been callous during and after the massacre and had criminalised the families of the striking mineworkers. “With [President Jacob] Zuma, he didn’t respond to the families of Marikana and he didn’t come to listen to us. He didn’t apologise or show remorse for what his police did, just like his [police] commissioner [Riah Phiyega].
“Mandela would have come to us,” Ma’Bhengu said, adding that “Marikana was a sign of how things have changed since Mandela. Now, we have a black government killing poor black people. Now we have black-on-black oppression.”
Sompeta’s words will echo over her funeral this weekend: President Cyril Ramaphosa has, like Zuma, not tendered an apology to the families of the slain men on behalf of the South African government or made much of an effort to meet with them. This, despite promises during his 2018 state of the nation address and in his responses to opposition parties’ replies to that speech.
Then, Ramaphosa pledged that the government would finalise reparations for emotional distress, grief, loss of family life et cetera, to the families “in the coming months”. Three years later, the families have yet to see this money.
In his address, Ramaphosa said he was “determined to play whatever role I can … in the process of healing and atonement. In this, I am guided by the needs and wishes of the families of the 44 workers who lost their lives.”
He has failed to meet the families of striking mineworkers, who have always maintained what they want is for Ramaphosa to meet them “privately, not on the podium”.
Ma’Bhengu Sompeta deserved that apology. She deserved to know the justice of seeing her son’s killers prosecuted and sentenced.
Independent autopsies established that Mzukisi Sompeta would have survived had emergency medical assistance arrived within the hour after the shooting. The police officer in charge of the on-site medical team on 16 August, Major General Ganasen Naidoo, was found by the commission of inquiry into the massacre to have kept the paramedics away from administering emergency care at “scene one”; first, by stalling their movements, and then, keeping them at hand while he launched a Rambo-style wild-firing “sweep” of “scene two” where 17 mineworkers were hunted down and killed by police.
When the medics finally got to Mzukisi Sompeta, it was too late to save him. The two bullets lodged in his body could be traced back to individual policemen’s guns. Likewise the bullets that killed Jackson Lehupa and Cebisile Yawa at “scene one”. Yet, almost a decade later no policemen have been convicted for the three deaths.
At the time of the strike, Ramaphosa was a non-executive director of Lonmin who had, in an email to the then-police minister, called for police to take “concomitant action” against the striking mineworkers after police and non-striking mineworkers had been killed in the days before 16 August.
At the time of going to press, the presidency had not responded to emailed questions regarding these failed three-year-old promises by Ramaphosa. This story will be updated when the Mail & Guardian receives a response.
Sompeta and a generation of mothers and fathers of striking mineworkers — and, in some instances, the mineworkers’ children, too — are dying with nothing having changed for them.
They are dying without justice being done, without answers as to who killed their loved ones. They are dying without being offered the common decency of an apology from a government they had hoped would be different from the violent apartheid-era one that preceded it.