Bhavna Ramji and Philiswa Sithole
June 2013: The sun shining on Marikana in the North West turns the blood of goats being slaughtered into glinting rivulets of mercury. We’re at a government-sponsored mass traditional ritual performed by the 44 families that lost loved ones at Lonmin’s Marikana platinum mine during an unprotected strike in August 2012. The intention of the slaughter is to cleanse the area where people were killed of evil spirits.
Family members collect in pockets in front of the koppie where miners had gathered to demand a monthly increase to R12 500. Male elders slit the throats of the goats. The practised art of skinning and disembowelling the animal before charring the meat is under way.
Yet, Aisha Fundi, the wife of Hassan Fundi − a Lonmin security guard who was killed at Marikana on August 12 2012 near the National Union of Mineworkers offices on the mine’s premises − is raising an objection with officials. This is not where her husband was killed. Nor is it where any of the other nine people who died before August 16 2012 were killed.
Nor is it where 34 miners were killed by police on August 16. Seventeen were killed close by what used to be a cattle kraal on the edge of the nearby Nkaneng informal settlement. Another 17 were shot – some at close range, others when they appeared to be running away from police – at another koppie about 700m away from where the ceremony took place.
In the days following August 16, the official version of what happened at Marikana appeared to propagate the illusion that all the killing had happened in front of television cameras at the cattle kraal. It was only weeks later, through intrepid investigation by, among others, academics like Peter Alexander and journalist Greg Marinovich, that scene two, or the “killing koppie”, was introduced into the public narrative surrounding the massacre at Marikana.
Evidence emerging at the Farlam Commission of Inquiry into Marikana has increasingly made a strong case for an apparent attempt by police and government to cover up what exactly happened on that bloody day.
The cleansing ceremony was another echo of placing, in the public imagination, Marikana as a space removed from its reality − an attempt to reposition Marikana physically, but also in the memories of South Africans.
It’s a reconstruction of Marikana that Marxist sociologist Henri Lefebvre would have described as a space between “illusion and truth, power and helplessness” − the intersection of imagination that power controls and the imagination that power cannot control.
Ndabo Mzimela is a resident of the Marikana land occupation in Cato Crest in Durban. He lives in an unruly Marikana that refuses to be controlled by power, especially in the community’s pursuit of socioeconomic rights like housing.
“We were inspired by the people from Marikana in the North West,” says Mzimela of the christening of the informal settlement. “[They were] people who had the guts and the will to fight for what they believed in. By looking at the video footage from the Marikana massacre, none of the miners involved were prepared to quit or turn back. They all moved forward. That’s the inspiration we needed.”
Durban’s Marikana has faced the brunt of illegal evictions by local government, which has acted without a court order. Mzimela recounts the dead of Durban’s Marikana: Nqobile Nzuza, who was killed by a police bullet while walking past a community protest; Nkululeko Gwala, who was assassinated by people yet to be arrested; Thembinkosi Qumbelo; and Nkosinathi Mngomezulu who was shot dead, it is alleged, by the Land Invasion Unit, “eight times, actually, but only four bullets got him”, says Mzimela.
Police brutality, the assassination of activists and ordinary people’s own determination to mobilise for their rights has reflected an imagining and iteration of a Marikana that refuses to be controlled by power.
“Even when there was a confrontation with the police, our message was: ‘Do what you did in Marikana, we do not have a problem.’ The shared emotion was: ‘Let’s all die. You, the police, are killing us anyway.’ If the police, whom we call peacemakers, can’t protect us, what are we supposed to do? That is what kept us going till today,” says Mzimela.
Nomkhosi Ngcamu, from KwaMaphumulo in KwaZulu-Natal, moved into the settlement in August last year, and for her it is poignant and fitting that she, too, is living in Marikana: “The pain [with which] we have struggled is similar to the way the people of Marikana suffered.”
She stops from her labour – digging a 2m hole in the ground to use as a toilet − to speak of the violent, often illegal evictions she has faced: “We are living in fear. I’ve had to rebuild four times since [August] because of the constant demolitions. The intention is to get us out of the site with no alternative accommodation. It makes it really hard to have a structure or even to bring my kids here to live with me as the [eThekwini] municipality may arrive on any given day.”
During the day, Marikana is deserted: its inhabitants, construction workers, supermarket tellers, domestic workers and security guards are mostly at work. The ground is treacherous, and it is a dry, unstable slide down to the settlement. The sections have been named after the fallen residents, like Gwala 1, Gwala 2 and Nqobile. Shacks have neat front gardens and connections to water pipes suggest an ingenuity in the face of impoverished marginalisation and oppression.
Marikana is a space that power struggles to control – especially in the face of everyday life.
Mzimela points out three professionally built shacks in the settlement and explains they were built by government after a fire spread through the settlement leaving 38 families homeless. The municipality undertook to build houses for six of the 38 families, according to Mzimela, but to date only three have been built. But they are empty; surrounded by shacks, the municipality cannot decide whom to allocate the houses to.
Mzimela explains that only senior ANC members, or people who are connected, get houses. To be a card-carrying member is not enough. You either need to be connected or you need to pay a bribe. In any event, to join the ANC now to get a house is “selling yourself”, says Mzimela.
“You need to be in the mafia to get a house,” he says.
Mzimela, who is the general secretary of Abahlali baseMjondolo, says the social movement “is just focusing on keeping the struggle going, because we cannot keep fighting with [the government]. We cannot keep responding to what they are doing. We have to keep pushing our struggle and we have to focus on helping people − poor people who need land, who need shelter in future. That is the basic thing that we are doing right now. As we have got cases in courts, we are winning all these cases. That is the only thing that helps us, because we can’t buy snipers to go and kill them. That’s not a solution. The only solution is to believe in our Constitution. That is the only thing that protects us as citizens.”
Earlier that day we passed a shack with a New National Party election poster in the window. It read: “This is your country too.” But this is also a country of Marikanas.
Additional reporting by Niren Tolsi
Striking Lonmin mine workers on the infamous koppie outside the Platinum mine in Marikana by Oupa Nkosi