/ 16 August 2021

Time in Marikana has stood still

Mine Workers Commemorate The Marikana Massacre, Marikana. 2014
Ongoing struggle: Mineworkers commemorate the 2012 Marikana massacre, two years later. At the Farlam commission, witnesses had differing views on what stick-carrying signified. (Paul Botes/M&G)

In Setswana, Nkaneng means “difficult place”. It is also the namesake of Marikana in the North West — only a stone’s throw away from the former Lonmin Platinum mine — and it is stuck in a time loop where life is static and unchanging.  

On a cold winter’s morning dense smog and grey dust engulfs the scattered waste where goats, chickens and cattle scavenge along the sand and stone roads. Live wires dress the paths between the shanty metal shacks and children play as if their lives could not be cut short at any moment. 

They have few alternatives. In fact, they spend their afternoons skiing down the notorious “koppie” where in 2012, 34 miners (and ten others) were murdered by police during an unprotected strike. 

They use old bread crates and take turns to slide down the rocky hill that has stood unmemorialised for nearly ten years, since that fateful week that took the lives of 44 people in total, including two police officers and a security guard.

Late in July this year, mine workers and affected families gathered at the same koppie to discuss their outstanding issues ahead of the upcoming anniversary, when Marikana will again come under the spotlight.

Ithumeleng Shamane was the only woman at the meeting. Her husband, Johannes Ntseki Maqoma, died in 2015 after suffering for three years from injuries sustained in an assault during his arrest on 16 August. She received a R300 000 payment for his claim but it related to his injuries, not his death.

Shamane has not found work in several years. The money she received will secure her  three children’s education and sustain them while she builds a new home in the Free State.

“It’s nearly ten years and the koppie still means nothing. Every year on 16 August we are told the same stories of fixing this mess,” said Xolani Nzuza, who is still leading the miners workers’ cause.

He was the second-in-command of the miners sitting on the koppie that fateful week and is currently on trial for murder. Nzuza is a mine worker who knows what is happening on the ground in Marikana, the eyes and ears. 

More than twenty of the wounded and arrested miners at the same koppie nodded as he led the meeting. 

Nzuza told the Mail & Guardian that plans were afoot to march to the Union Buildings in Pretoria over the miners’ outstanding issues with the state, and specifically to President Cyril Ramaphosa, who was a non-executive at Lonmin during the unrest, and who had to face tough grilling over his call for “concomitant action” against the miners in an email to Lonmin at the time. 

At the Farlam commission hearings, Ramaphosa conceded his “language” was problematic. 

“All our names were made dirty because we were arrested, they say we are murderers and violent people. We can’t even get jobs elsewhere because that will come up. Every other month for years we have been going to the court. We stand there and we are told it’s been postponed over and over again. This case is not going anywhere. The government made sure we could be nothing again,” Nzuza told the mine workers. 

Samkele Mpambani bemoaned the fact that the koppie looked exactly the way it did in 2012 when he spoke to the M&G. “My children and other children must know what happened here when they walk through here,” he said.

Mpambani has remained unemployed since he was arrested during the strike and has spent the last few years trying to clear his record. 

Addressing the gathering, another mine worker said that some of them had signed offer letters but they have still not been paid, years later. 

“We have to fight until it is all released. If no money has been released now when are we going to get anything from Lonmin or Ramaphosa? And we should never hide the fact that Ramaphosa has been promising to come here and talk to us. We have been so patient with that man but he has failed to speak to us as someone who was involved in shooting and killing some of us. How many years has it been?” he asked.

Lonmin Plc successfully sold its operations to Sibanye-Stillwater in 2019.

Three hundred civil claims were submitted on behalf of those injured and arrested against the state.

Two hundred and seventy miners were arrested during the confrontation with police and collectively charged with murder before the National Prosecuting Authority buckled under pressure to drop the charges.

On the other side of the koppie, in Marikana West, Thumeka Magwangqana is defeated by the political and corporate failures in communities nestled on one of the world’s largest platinum deposits.

She is a grassroots volunteer who runs bead-making and sewing projects to generate income for unemployed women. She was among the women who lobbied support for grieving families and those affected by the arrests and conflict during the August strike. 

Both Lonmin and now Sibanye-Stillwater have maintained that many of the mine workers living in the informal settlements did so by choice, because they were burdened by debt and servicing two households: the one in Marikana and the one back home. 

“Not all the miners can afford the mine’s housing, some are over R1 000, others maybe R750, and they must buy electricity for themselves. So there are many things that are still the same,” Magwangqana said. 

It frustrates her that despite the limelight cast onto the area by events in history, there are no basic services and security has not improved on the tense platinum belt. 

“People are still dying while they are going to work. In the mornings you see people gathered at Wonderkop around another body. Every Saturday someone is dead, someone is dead,” she said.

The Farlam commission found that the housing conditions in Marikana contributed to the breakdown in relations and trust between Lonmin and its workforce in 2012. Little has changed since then.

Sibanye-Stillwater told the M&G that there was alternative housing available for the miners, which is what the living-out allowance was meant for.

The company acquired Lonmin’s operation in 2019 when it also began a process to adopt Lonmin’s social and labour plan.

Vice-president of stakeholder relations Thabisile Phumo said that some mine workers  preferred to use that money for other necessities.

For mine workers who chose to live in Nkaneng, the decision was not easy.

“The main reason I left [the hostel] was because of the bad living conditions inside the hostel. You have no choice, you have no freedom. What you eat is decided for you. You eat whatever is put on your plate, no matter what it is or how it is … The bathing conditions were bad, you have to bathe 20 at a time,” a worker at Lonmin told Amnesty International during a probe into living conditions in Marikana and Nkaneng. 

The organisation’s report, titled Smoke and Mirrors, said that the living-out allowance did not factor in whether there were affordable alternatives to the hostels. 

“While the allowance had positive aspects and enabled mine workers to leave the hostel system, it did not take account of whether there was adequate alternative housing in the vicinity of the mine where they could find accommodation,” the report found, adding that in many cases, the lack of alternatives led to mineworkers living in informal settlements and in some cases to the growth of such settlements.

A socioeconomic evaluation of Marikana by Sibanye following its acquisition found that 75.3% of women in the area were unemployed. It also found cases of the malnutrition condition kwashiorkor, a condition it said was common in conflict-hit areas or those affected by drought and natural disasters.

Sibanye told the M&G that consultations were ongoing to improve conditions in Nkaneng, and the erection of a monument at the koppie was part of its proposals, but that it was the state’s responsibility to declare the settlement.