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No justice left behind after the Marikana massacre

Nokuthula Zibambele wears her emotions in her eyes more than anyone else I know. 

In December 2012, when we met for the first time at her home in Lusikisiki, she was still in the dark clothes of mourning. Her eyes mirrored that colour. They were shell-shocked too. But then, so many of the widows of the 44 men who lost their lives at Marikana during a wildcat strike at the beginning of August 2012 carried that look, for so long.

A few months later she showed me a picture on her phone and said: “Here is my husband.” 

Nokothula Zimbambele outside her home in Lusikisili, Eastern Cape (Photo: Paul Botes)

Nokothula Zimbambele outside her home in Lusikisili, Eastern Cape (Photo: Paul Botes)

Thobisile Zibambele’s limp body was being certified dead by a police officer at the cattle kraal near the Nkaneng shack settlement where 17 striking miners were mowed down by the police line towards which they had been channelled on 16 August. The policeman was holding Zibambele up at the arm, his body hung limply in a perfect curve to about the waist. He was surrounded by dead men. He, too, was dead.

That showed in Zibambele’s eyes.

In 2016, staring at her daughter Sandisa’s coffin while mourners’ prayers escalated to the grey, swollen clouds above, Nokuthula’s eyes had a mother’s gnawing question in them. The one that asked what she could have done differently to prevent her 24-year-old child’s suicide. 

Zibambele’s eyes are almond-shaped. They are alive with kindness and expression. Her eyes have, over the past nine years, also found moments when they have crinkled at the edges because of the pressure from a smile that pushes her cheeks swollen up against them. When they have been touched by laughter. Happiness. Fatigue at cleaning toilets and offices at the mines. Worry over her children’s future. Pride at their achievements. Bemusement at my sometimes stupid questions.

On 29 March this year at the high court in Mahikeng they returned to that haunted look I remembered from our first meeting. 

Mourners at Sandisa Zimbambele’s funeral 2016 (Photo: Paul Botes)

Mourners at Sandisa Zibambele’s funeral 2016. Sandisa Zibambele died by suicide in 2016, another blow for the widowed Nokuthula Zibambele, who lost her husband Thobisile in 2012. (Photo: Paul Botes)

North West deputy judge president Ronald Hendricks had just acquitted former deputy provincial police commissioner William Mpembe and three others of charges including defeating the ends of justice, contravening the Commissions Act by perjuring themselves, and contravening the Independent Police Investigative Directorate (Ipid) Act for failing to report the death, in police custody, of Modisaotsile Van Wyk Segalala.

“I was not happy about that judgment in the Segalala case,” Nokuthula Zibambele said recently. “I still felt that the police were hiding the truth from us and from the courts. I felt that they got away again.”

The sixty-year-old Segalala had been shot in the chest at “scene two” or the “killing koppie” on 16 August. The killing there started approximately fifteen minutes after the police’s deadly shooting at the cattle kraal, or “scene one”. 

There were no media cameras at scene two.

Forensic evidence and testimony at the Farlam Commission of Inquiry confirmed that police had gone on a hunting expedition of miners who were hiding for their lives among the rocks, crevices and bushes at scene two. 

Modisaotsile van Wyk Segalala died in police custody.

Seventeen men were shot dead there; execution style. Four miners were shot in the head or neck, 11 in the back. One hundred and twelve others bore the brunt of the police bullets. Survivors talked of seeing men being hunted down by police and shot. Others told of how they themselves had been shot at by police while surrendering.

Police had originally told the commission that Segalala had died in hospital. 

New photographic evidence discovered by Ipid after the commission had completed its work confirmed that, on the afternoon of 16 August, instead of receiving medical attention, an injured Segalala had been dumped onto the back of a police truck with other arrested miners to be processed. By the time that truck reached the processing point on Lonmin property, Segalala’s body was lifeless.  

Sitting with Zibambele and her daughter Nonkhanyiso recently, I recount that judgment day earlier this year when she and several other widows had gathered in court in support of Seagalala’s son, Hendrik. I tell her the look she had in her eyes, on a face half-covered by a mask, as the families were briefed about the judgment by their lawyer, Nomzamo Zondo, made my own eyes well up.

Zibambele takes a deep breath and exhales: “That judgment broke me,” she says, “Segalala died tied up. He died a painful death and still the police won’t tell us why he had to die.”

Zibambele’s mouth dries up, her eyes get moist: “Justice was not served the way it happened to Segalala. He was treated like a criminal before he died. We have been waiting for justice since November 2012 [when she started attending the Farlam Commission]. From then, until now, I have been listening to the judges and the lawyers: 2012, 2013, 2014 … 2017, 2018, 2019, 2020 and this year … in all the different cases we are involved in. But still, there is no justice. It still feels like the judges never feel the pain that we feel.”

To leaven the mood, I make a joke about Zibambele having spent so much time in court over the past nine years that she could consider a new career as a lawyer. 

This does little to salve the wound of injustice. But her reality has sharpened her sense of the law.

In 2013 she told us that police testimony at the Farlam Commission was bent on “hiding the truth. You can see during cross-examination [of police witnesses] that just as the truth is coming out they don’t answer the questions directly,” she said.

Nothing much has changed for her. Zibambele says that at the commission she learnt how and where her husband died, but not at whose hands — or why? It’s a profound lacuna.

Justice for the families of Marikana — whether their loved ones were striking miners, Lonmin security staff such as Hassan Fundi, non-striking miners like Julius Langa was, or policemen such as Tsietsi Monene — has been non-existent.

In many of the murder trials postponements have been followed by more postponements. 

This year, the most active case has been the murder trial involving Mpembe, the retired air-wing commander Colonel Salmon Vermaak and five other police officers. This is for the death of three striking miners and two policemen under Mpembe’s command, during a skirmish on 13 August, and the attempted murder of five other striking miners. The skirmish had been triggered, unprovoked, by police. 

The matter has already been heard for six weeks this year, but is set to continue for at least another two years, according to lawyer Nomzamo Zondo, who is the executive director at the Socio-Economic Rights Institute of South Africa.

The matters involving the massacre on 16 August and the deaths at scene one and scene two have yet to be set down for adjudication. The National Prosecuting Authority has assigned three very capable, but overworked, prosecutors to handle all these cases about police involved in the killings. These lawyers have other cases to handle in addition to the Marikana ones.

Meanwhile the report by the panel of experts established on the recommendation of the Farlam commission to investigate and suggest measures to reform the police has yet to be acted on. 

Submitted to the police minister in May 2018, it gathers dust as public order policing continues to fail South Africans. 

This inertia is directly responsible for the police killing Mthokozisi Ntumba, an innocent bystander, during student protests outside Wits University in Johannesburg earlier this year. 

The reform and planning the report demanded has been ignored to the detriment of businesses, shops, logistic hubs and other key infrastructure destroyed during the wave of violence and looting that accompanied July’s insurrection in KwaZulu-Natal and Johannesburg. Then, police reportedly did not have enough rubber bullets, public order expertise or manpower to respond to the destruction and looting. There have been claims that some rogue elements within the police aligned to former president Jacob Zuma did not have the will to do so, either.

The government failed the dead of Marikana in 2012. It has failed South Africans in the intervening years.

So, now, even the ghosts are rising up.

                       

Hendrik Seagalala sits in court for the trial of William Mpembe and three others of charges including defeating the ends of justice, contravening the Commission’s Act by perjuring themselves, and contravening the IPID Act for failing to report the death, in police custody, of Modisaotsile Van Wyk Seagalala.

Very little gets under the skin of Hendrik Segalala. He has taken life’s setbacks over the past nine years — many violent and traumatic — in his laid-back, nonchalant stride. Segalala is philosophical in a way that I have sometimes found hard to fathom — this is certainly my failing, not his.    

Yet even he has shown signs of strain recently.  

We were standing outside a fast-food joint in Mahikeng on the day deputy chief justice Hendricks acquitted the police for covering up the death of his father. 

Segalala is drawing hard on a cigarette. I am wishing I was, too. His voice hardens in a way I have never heard before: “My father has been coming to me in my dreams again,” he says. “At first it was every few months but now its three of four times a month. He just stands there, looking at me from afar. He has not settled, his spirit is still out there somewhere in Marikana and I don’t know what to do.”

Segalala is frustrated. His father would come to him in the years after the massacre and communicate: to say that their family home in Setlagole village in the North West needed repairs, or that his brother’s friends were taking advantage of him after a financial windfall.

Now he is silent. Just staring.

Segalala has consulted traditional healers and believes the behaviour of his father’s ghost is because the family have not performed the series of rituals that his mixed Bechuana and Xhosa heritage demands to allow his soul to rest in peace.

He says: “Every year at the anniversary of the massacre I lay flowers down for my father at Marikana. But it is not where he died. First we were told he died in hospital, now I know he died in a police truck, but I don’t have enough answers to give him peace.”

Segalala’s is an eldest son’s torment. 

We meet him again during the Women’s Day long weekend at the Middelkraal Hostel on what used to be Lonmin property. Lonmin, the multinational company that owned the platinum mining operation at Marikana during the 2012 strike has since sold it to Sibanye-Stillwater. 

On the face of it not much has changed in the intervening years. Loud maskanda pumps from hi-fi speakers and men congregate on a Sunday to drink — many heavily. This is the way of the mining towns.

But residents at the hostel, which houses both men and women, complain that there has not been running water for weeks. That conditions generally have deteriorated here. This is despite the company announcing last week that its overall group profits would increase by more than 162% year-on-year, for the first half of the year ended 30 June.

Segalala sits outside his two-room hostel unit. He is smoking again. His habit remains as consistent as his hope: “I was speaking with Nomzamo recently, hopefully she can help me track down the number plate of the truck in which my father died. Maybe I can start with a cleansing ritual there,” he says.

Zameka Nungu at her home in Mount Frere in the Eastern Cape. (Photo: Paul Botes)

Zameka Nungu has always ensured that her daughter, Nowili, had her head screwed on right. 

Two years after the Marikana massacre Nowili Nungu walked around Nkaneng with us on a Sunday morning. Drunken men slurred lecherously from tavern yards at the then-16-year-old.    

We discussed how there were so few jobs at Marikana for women. That so many of them were forced into sex work to make a living in the mining town. 

Stepping around rubbish and over wires for illegal electricity connections Nungu talked about wanting to get out. Visiting her mother from boarding school in Rustenburg, she talked about how she intended to use the free education offered by Lonmin to avoid the pitfalls of teenage pregnancy and unemployment so as to be able to one day take care of her single-parent family. To give back to her mother for all her sacrifices after her father, Jackson Lehupa, a rock-drill operator at K3 Shaft, was killed by police on 16 August.

Seven years later very little has changed at Marikana itself. Only the name of the company mining the land for platinum profits.

The shack settlements surrounding the mines still do not have piped running water and waste removal. Electricity connections are mainly illegal. Men still treat women like chattel.

“We get disrespected by men, often by old men, because they all know that there is no man in this house. What kind of society is this that make old men want to sleep with young women?” asks Nungu. She is currently staying in a two-room hostel unit at Karee Shaft with her mother and female cousins. When her young brothers come home from

boarding school there are six to the unit.

In 2021 Nungu, 24, graduated with a diploma in public relations after studying labour and administration. She had initially sought a job in that field, sending out CVs and applications to companies in Marikana and more widely. To no avail.

Nowili Nungu in Marikana, she has been unable to find a job and has applied at all the stores to no avail. (Photo: Paul Botes)

“People want experience, and I don’t have any. There are also fewer jobs because of Covid and companies seem to be retrenching, not hiring,” she says.

So she set her sights much lower: “I was sitting at home jobless for so long that I even started sending my CV to the Boxer, the Chicken Licken to try and get a job as a cashier. Nothing. So at the moment my cousin and I are selling plates [of food]  to the miners at Karee Shaft.”

The cousins wake up at 5am every morning to start cooking before taking the gas stove, pots of food, tables and chairs down to the shaft. On a good day they can make about R150 profit.

“It’s really discouraging for me as a young person in this country. So many people are unemployed and every time I apply for a job and I don’t get a response I still cry. I cry because I am 24 and I still have to ask my mother for money to buy toiletries. I am 24 and all my dreams have vanished,” she says, echoing the feelings of an entire generation of unemployed South African youth.

Nungu talks about the scammers who have wrested money, sometimes thousands, from young people desperate for employment. She says this is part of a crisis of morality in South African society where elders lie and cheat and act with hypocrisy — this is an example that more people follow every day.

“In 2018 when he became president [Cyril] Ramaphosa promised to come to my mother and the other families and apologise for what the government did to our fathers. He never did that. He never came to us,” she says. “I was asking myself: ‘How does he treat his own children?’ If he can lie to us, then of course many others will, too — every day.”

“I don’t feel like a citizen in this country. I feel like an outsider,” she adds, with finality.

Paul Botes and Niren Tolsi have been working on their “After Marikana” project since 2012.

Read more of our anniversary coverage here.

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