MAC: Mines and Communities

South Africa: Sikhala Sonke - "We Cry Together"

Published by MAC on 2017-08-18
Source: Open Democracy, Quartz Africa

Marikana women picket Lonmin, five years after massacre

This week, members of the Marikana community in South Africa brought their bitter grievances about the fatal shooting by police of 34 miners at the Lonmin platinum mine to the UK comany's London headquarters. (For earlier article see: South African Bishop lobbies Lonmin at London AGM).

This was a delegation of women, one of whom died in what became the deadliest confontation between poor black workers and their families under ANC rule.

In the first article, two of these women record the development of this battle and the failures of government and company to adhere to promises they made over the previous five years.

Following this we reproduce an article from Quartz Africa that echoes this, but comments:

"Memorializing [the Marikana workers'] stories would force South Africa to face its own post-apartheid failures: low wages, poor working conditions and a lack of basic housing".  Nonetheless it concludes:

"Any monument would highlight how, economically, little has changed for many South Africans".


"I closed my eyes and waited for the bullet"

Thumeka Magwangqana and Primrose Sonti

Open Democracy

16 August 2017

5 years ago today, 34 mine workers were shot dead in South Africa during a bitter dispute with British firm Lonmin. Today their community is taking their demands for accountability to the firm’s HQ.

In August 2012, mine workers at British company Lonmin’s Marikana platinum mine in South Africa went on strike to demand the living wage. In the week leading up to 16 August, the workers tried to access the managers’ offices but they were pushed back by security. This was where the battle began.

Pushed back from the managers’ offices, the mine workers decided to go to the koppie, a small mountain near Lonmin’s mine, outside the company’s premises. They were there for a few days waiting for management to reply to their demands, and the rest of us in the community were not allowed to go near them. Every day when the men came down from that mountain, we asked them to tell us what was going on. Ten people were killed between 12 – 14 August, including two police officers.

We watched what was happening on TV constantly and in the afternoon of 15 August, we saw a crowd of people. Horses and police officers were growing in number on the koppie and, as women and leaders of the community, we were very upset. We were waiting for good news, for the management to make good decisions.

Early in the morning of 16 August, we saw the barbed wire encircling the koppie and we knew that people there were going to die. We collected the women of the community and, as leaders, we said that we should go straight to Lonmin management and tell them that if they didn’t want to give the mine workers the extra money, then it was better that we take them home because the situation had become so bad.

We collected the women and when we met near the mountain, we were too late. We heard the bullets, and then the ambulances.

Thirty-four mine workers were shot dead.

We couldn’t get there afterwards, there was a large crowd and we were told not go there, that it was very hectic. We turned back and didn’t sleep that night. Early in the morning, we went to see the police at the koppie and were fighting with them, trying everything. Then we cried.

We went to the police stations and hospitals to look for the missing. We were looking for a guy that was staying in the yard of one of our houses. He didn’t come back and we weren’t sure if he died or was in hospital or jail.

They shot Paulina

A month later, on 15 September 2012 we were near the koppie with Paulina Masuhlo, an ANC councillor and our good friend. The police had weapons and fought the mine workers near the koppie. They killed Paulina. I don’t know how I (Primrose) survived because I was next to her. I just took my hood and closed my eyes and then I waited for the bullet. We took Paulina to hospital where she died.

After Paulina’s death, we met again as women and formed an organisation called Sikhala Sonte (We Cry Together). We organised as women in solidarity with those who died. They were brothers, fathers, friends, they were related to us. As women, we gathered together in the hospitals, funerals, prisons and courts.

Sikhala Sonke is now a registered non-profit organisation and last year filmmaker Aliki Saragas approached us about documenting our community’s struggle for justice. We are in the UK to show the finished film, called Strike a Rock, and to represent the mine workers, widows, orphans and everyone in our community. We are demanding action from Lonmin because they promised to help the widows, to compensate them, to compensate Paulina’s family, but they’ve said nothing about her since.

While Lonmin have given us promises, the conditions in Marikana are even worse than they were before 2012. We have no roads, toilets, running water and no proper housing. if somebody is sick they will die because the ambulances cannot reach them. Many widows were forced to work in the mines to replace their husbands because their children were starving. They had no choice.

The miners that weren’t killed on 16 August 2012 were taken to prison and charged with the murders of their co-workers. Men were arrested in the days, months and years that have followed under an apartheid-era law, called the Law of Common Purpose. Some of them are still fighting charges and have recently been in court. Many of those accused have been tortured by the police and are traumatised. The whole community is traumatised.

Over 30,000 people live in Marikana and most are still living in shacks. Many adults are not working and gender-based violence, domestic violence and drug-use is common.

Sikhala Sonke demands reparation from Lonmin

Lonmin has an obligation to the community. In its Social Labour Plan it has committed to building 5,000 houses for the community, a promise made before the Massacre to improve living and working conditions. Up until the film was released, it had built three. Sikhala Sonke has repeatedly asked why these houses have not been built, particularly as the International Finance Corporation (IFC) – the finance arm of the World Bank – paid $50 million to Lonmin in 2007 to fulfil its commitments to the community.

We want to know where that money has gone.

In recent months, Lonmin has built some houses, for mine workers only, but many are paying high rents. Some 4,400 homes are meant to be built by 2018, according to Lonmin’s 2016-2018 Social Labour Plan. The South African Department of Mineral Resources must get tough on Lonmin for not complying with the Social Labour Plans, because they are legally binding regulations.

Sikhala Sonke participated in dispute resolution talks with Lonmin last year but we realised that it was a waste of time and decided to pull out. The company promised us each time we met that in the next meeting they would discuss our demands but, when we returned, they told us that they had no money. We didn’t demand money from them, all we wanted was justice.

Neither the ANC government nor the police protected the mine workers. But now Deputy President, Cyril Ramaphosa, wants to come to Marikana and apologise. This is because he’s trying to become president. He is too late. Where were the apologies in 2012? ANC leaders should have gone to Marikana before and said sorry to those they have wronged.

We are picketing Lonmin’s Headquarters in London because we want them to be held accountable for what has happened. We want them to take care of their workers and to give them a share of their profits.

Over 90 per cent of Lonmin’s business is in South Africa but its headquarters and shareholders are in the UK – this is where the profits go. Our visit to the UK must make some changes for our community.

About the authors

Thumeka Magwangqana is Chairperson for Sikhala Sonti and a psychosocial support worker in Marikana.
Primrose Sonti is a member of parliament for the South African Economic Freedom Fighters (EFF) party and founder and leader of women’s community group Sikhala Sonti.

This article is published under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial 4.0 International licence.

 Marikana is the massacre South Africa doesn’t know how to mourn

Lynsey Chutel

Quartz africa

17 August 2017

South African workers of world No. 3 platinum producer Lonmin launched a wildcat strike on Tuesday [15 August], halting all of the company's mine operations and reigniting fears of deadly unrest that rocked the industry last year. The platinum belt towns of Rustenburg and Marikana, which saw violent strikes at Lonmin and other platinum producers last year, are a flashpoint of labour strife with tensions running high over looming job cuts and wage talks.

South Africa has no trouble remembering its painful past, and yet at the fifth anniversary of the Marikana shooting the country still has no closure—or monument—to one of the most seminal events in recent history.

In the last half century, South Africa’s historical landscape has been the site of displacement, slavery, colonialism, concentration camps and apartheid. It is admirable how the country has forced itself to face its public pain and use it as the foundation of a new identity, collectively mourning through monuments and memorials. South Africa has pointed to its ability to reckon with its past as a sign of the country’s efforts to reconcile. The Marikana massacre, however, has tested this resolve.

Five years ago, a tense labor standoff resulted in the first mass shooting since apartheid. For days, thousands of miners demanding better wages in the platinum sector had gathered on a rocky hill, known locally as a koppie. On August 16, 2012, jittery police opened fire on a group of striking mineworkers, killing 34 at the foot of a rocky hill, known locally as a koppie.

South African police opened fire on Thursday against thousands of striking miners armed with machetes and sticks at Lonmin's Marikana platinum mine, leaving several bloodied corpses lying on the ground. A Reuters cameraman said he saw at least seven bodies after the shooting, which occurred when police laying out barricades of barbed wire were outflanked by some of an estimated 3,000 miners massed on a rocky outcrop near the mine, 100 km (60 miles) northwest of Johannesburg. 

Today, the koppie juts out of an otherwise bland landscape, much smaller than it seemed when it was occupied by hundreds of disenfranchised miners. Children slide down the steep, smooth edge and young people sunbathe. For a while, simple crosses marked where the miners fell, but have since disappeared. The opposition party, the Economic Freedom Fighters, tried to erect similar crosses as a monument in other parts of the country, but they were removed within hours.

The miners who were killed and injured were a mass of impoverished men who worked long hours underground, and lived in hostels and informal settlements at the foot of mine dumps in South Africa’s platinum belt. They’d rejected the union linked to the ruling African National Congress and the union that sprang up in its place simply didn’t have the national clout. They remained voiceless except for the struggle songs led by an impromptu leader, Mgcineni Noki, who became known as the Man in the Green Blanket.

Memorializing their stories would force South Africa to face its own post-apartheid failures: low wages, poor working conditions and a lack of basic housing. Any monument would highlight how, economically, little has changed for many South Africans.

On the fifth anniversary on Aug 16, 2017, the koppie was once again occupied by thousands of miners, this time attending a memorial service headlines by opposition politicians. A day earlier, on Aug. 15, Lonmin unveiled plans to build a memorial park, inspired by the green blanket worn by Noki, and its progress on long promised houses.

The rhetoric of the day was marked by how little has changed for the community around the mine, which was one of the rallying cries of the striking miners five years ago. In the absence of a home, few would focus on a museum. The lack of a monument, however, has more to do with how politically contentious the issue has become.

It’s been a blight on the political career of deputy president Cyril Ramaphosa, who was a non-executive member of the Lonmin board and used his political influence to end the strike (although, it’s unlikely that he could have foreseen the effect of a few lines in an email). Ramaphosa has participated in a televised commission of inquiry and apologized after being heckled in parliament, but he may not set foot at the koppie.

Ramaphosa built his political career as a trade unionist, before becoming a businessman and one of South Africa’s wealthiest men. Tipped to be the next president, his story of post-apartheid success is starkly at odds with that of the slain miners. These two stories would not sit comfortably next to each other on a monument, but as South Africa already knows, healing and remembering are rarely easy.


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