Nomfulela’s husband, Apa November, arrives from work around 3pm, covered in sweat under the scorching sun of Marikana and overly dressed in his rock driller outfit. He has spent twelve hours underground chasing a meager bonus with a 75kg machine in hand. Before the Lonmin strike he was making R3 500 a month. Nomfunela is 46 years old and together they have three children. She’s been unemployed ever since she got to Marikana in 1993 when she came fearlessly from KZN looking for greener pastures. She now survives through the child income grant. They live in a tiny shack in Nkaneng. Numfulela was one of the few women to be involved with SANCO before the massacre and is now part of the Women’s Solidarity Forum. As her friend and colleague Primrose, a leading activists in the Wonderkop community says, “before the massacre, the women of Marikana were very relaxed. But since that day, we haven’t sat down for one second.”
The Solidarity Forum explains how hard it has been to organize without a specific state intervention for women as victims of the massacre. After August 16th, it was blatantly apparent that SANCO didn’t have the capacity to deal with their needs. The Women’s Forum was convened as part of an effort by activists across the country to respond to the massacre by working alongside Marikana women who came out in the hours and days following the massacre. Activists regularly visited Marikana and held solidarity meetings with women organizing in the area. These meetings were held to hear the needs of the Marikana women, and to understand what support was hoped for from other women outside of the area.
To this day, the women of the Marikana Solidarity Forum raise issues of police violence and harassment, the lack of basic services, especially for the migrants that have come to work in the area, high unemployment levels, low levels of women’s organisation until the massacre and their desire to work with and learn from other women. The Forum was thus created to link their struggle with other organizations who share similar needs. Primrose, Thomeka and Nomfulela want to strengthen their knowledge, get access to information, fortify their organizational skills and support other women of their community.
Indeed, it’s still very much a man’s world at Lonmin and in the wake of the massacre many of their demands continue to go unnoticed. There are women whose husbands were killed, women who have children mine workers, women with no partners who depend on the mine for their salary as traders, women migrants who have to deal with daily xenophobia, widows who aren’t married and fear legal problems in accessing support because they aren’t recognized by the law and girlfriends who receive no support as the official spouses are back home. The women who do want to organize have very limited resources and are confronted to a sometimes hostile environment. As Xhosas and Zulus, they can be badly received by the other women. Primrose, Xhosa, tells us, “here we are mixed but separated and divided: there are Tswana, Sotho, Xhosas, Zulus etc. But they don’t want us here, they don’t want us to be employed. They say we are taking their land.”
Primrose was chairperson of the ANC’s women league and SANCO secretary for many years but she quit because of too many internal fights over councilor positions. She’s happier organizing with the Solidarity Forum, “we were doing nothing before. Now we want to build a strong organization in Wonderkop and I think we will be able to thanks to the activists from Johannesburg.”
Constance from LAMOSA (Land Access Movement of South Africa), who is part of the Women’s Forum, tells Amandla, “we fought for democracy because we wanted our own natural resources, our land and minerals, and now we don’t even have access to water. The media is trying to narrow this issue down to labor, but in reality it’s much bigger. Marikana is an eye opening opportunity, and it’s time for unions and government to really take up our issues as the most marginalized. Women don’t have a forum that brings them together in Marikana, they’re discriminated against not only as women but also on racial lines. It really divides them. Thomeka, whose daughter is a mineworker, joined SANCO about a year ago where she met Primrose and Nomfulela. “There was no structure for women before the strike. At SANCO, residents used to come talk to us about neighborhood issues or domestic violence but that was the extent of it. Primrose and I were alone when we tried to gather the women to develop the community. So many couples have problems raising their kids because they can’t afford them. These are important issues we need help with. My daughter makes R4200 a month and I rely on her for everything: electricity, rent and food. She has lots of debts as we also send money back to the Eastern Cape for my family. On top of that, I worry about her safety on the mine, last year she was punched by a man underground.”
On the day of the massacre, Primrose, Pauline, Nomfulela and Thomeka rushed near the koppie to do circles of prayers and to bring food and support to the workers. Primrose says, “we stood up with the miners when they started striking. I supported them from the start, those in jail, those wounded, we were there, we were upside down trying to help them, collecting and mobilize the women, saying “Wake up! It’s our husbands, our brothers and our fathers that are dying!” That’s why they convened the Women’s March, where Pauline was tragically killed and three other women were shot with rubber bullets. As Sipho reports, the women were very specific on their need to march as women, to build and reclaim their power as women, to express their rage, to reclaim a voice they have been denied as women, as members of the community of Marikana, as citizens of this country. They articulated their need to march as women not as a separatist thing but as being about taking their power while at the same time acting in solidarity with the men who had been killed.
The Women’s Solidarity Forum hasn’t stopped organizing and mobilizing since August, trying to source funding for workshops and wanting to set up cooperatives. “We want to open a bakery and to train women how to make dresses and flower baskets”, says Primrose. “I have many visions but not much help to achieve them.” Thomeka agrees. “Marikana is in poverty, and we need development. There are simple things we can do. We just need to be united. We need projects for all of the unemployed women to keep them active and supportive. Then we will be able to do something else than crying and praying when the men are on the koppie. We want to be able to feed the children. We want to be ready.” As Constance says with teething anger, “we’ve known something like this would happen for some time now, but the question is, how many more Marikanas will the government need to wake up? We don’t have to be slaves anymore.”