And what of the women of Marikana? | by Samantha Hargreaves

by Sep 13, 2012Magazine

what-of-the-women-of-marikanaMore than two weeks have passed since the savage 16 August massacre at Marikana massacre and much has been said by government, the mine, the unions, and some civil society organisations. But we have heard little directly from the Marikana strikers, and almost nothing from the women of Marikana. We hear from those with power, visibility, and access to the media, and the women of Marikana enjoy little privilege on any of these fronts. But they are there – mobilising in their communities, choosing their delegations to court, raising the money to get there and demonstrating with passion and fearlessness against the police.

Ten days after the slaughter, women activists from various grassroots organisations and NGOs visited Wonderkop to be in solidarity with the women of Marikana. There, we heard of the nightly raids of police on their communities, and of the beating, arrest and abduction of other men. One woman told us: ‘Our husbands, brothers and fathers have been killed like snakes’. The women are deeply fearful of the police, and rightly so after their murderous and brutal conduct. Some women may have experienced gender-specific violence by the criminal justice machinery, with a report trickling in some days back that women had been raped by the police. ‘We are afraid of sleeping in our houses… we sleep outside to be safe,’ said one woman, while another told us they were fearful of the police, who ‘are like the criminals. They break down our doors and take us.’

In the informal settlements the women call ‘home’, they are now on the frontline, defending and protecting their families and communities. Just like in the anti-apartheid days, it is the women who keep a watchful eye on their families and neighbours, who track police movements, and report incidents of police brutality and harassment to the churches (seemingly the most constant ‘outside’ presence in Marikana) and other organs of civil society.

The majority of the Marikana strikers live in the informal settlements surrounding the Lonmin mine. These do not differ from those we see in any of our major cities, or small towns, but what does differentiate them is that they are starkly juxtaposed against the mine infrastructure and shafts: a very physical representation of the enormous wealth generated in the digging up of platinum, which is of little benefit to these communities.

In Wonderkop, one of a few such settlements in Marikana, sewerage literally does flow through the streets, water is bought from the few that can afford to install a standpipe, shacks sit at lopsided angles facing onto narrow allies or deeply eroded dirt roads, there are no health services, no electricity, and schools are at a distance away. The workers are employed by the world’s third biggest platinum producer, which has benefited greatly in two separate waves of highly profitable returns on capital investment in the 2000s. The workers live under a democratic dispensation, and yet these are the desperate and deplorable circumstances of their existence. A deep and grave injustice is being done to the workers of Marikana, and their communities, and it is this reality, combined with exploitative wages, that gave rise to the strike action and that now ripples through the mining sector.

With a state that is completely absent and mining companies that plunder national resources with little investment in the local economy, the women of Marikana, because of the gendered division of labour, carry the burden of no or entirely inadequate public and social services. It is they (with the support of children) who on a daily basis reproduce the male workers: gathering firewood, negotiating for and carrying water, cook, cleaning and washing, and caring for the children. While their men also endure the hardship of life here, it is the women whose unpaid labour compensates for the failures of the state and the careless looting by Lonmin and other corporations.

The majority of Wonderkop women we met with are in-migrants (settlers). They do not appear to identify with Marikana as ‘home’, a position no doubt aided by the terrible inhospitality of this place. Poverty is severe, with an estimated 67 percent of households, many headed by women, earning R1 600 per month or less (Treasury, 2011 in Benchmarks Foundation, 2012). People are here for work and survival reasons only – the men to work or have a chance to labour on the mines, and the women either having followed their men, or coming there to work on the mines or to benefit from the presence of male workers, some of them alone and distant from their families. The men need goods and services, including sex and affection, which the women, in the absence of real livelihood alternatives, can and do provide. However, not all women are there out of choice with the Benchmarks report (2012) citing disturbing examples of women being ‘imported’ from Mozambique for the purpose of sex slavery.

The Benchmarks report (2012) highlights the abuse of another highly invisible group – working class women who work on the mines – both at the point of recruitment, when they are expected to trade sex for jobs, and on the job, when they are subject to sexual harassment and abuse by male bosses and peers (see also Benya, A, 2009). In conversation with the women of Wonderkop, the trading of sex for cash or other forms of support from men is common – both on the mines themselves and in the informal settlements that surround the mines. One woman from Wonderkop said: ‘People point fingers at us saying we sell sex, but what option do we have? The only way we can survive is by selling our bodies.’ Some of the women spoke passionately of the need for livelihood options specifically for support for working the land.

Some of the key demands of women in the midst of the Marikana crisis are for:

  • A full and complete list of all of those that have died, been injured, and that are currently in detention to be made public immediately.
  • The police to get out of their communities now and to stop the ongoing harassment, arrests and torture. Specifically, for police units from outside of Marikana to be returned to their bases immediately.
  • The police who have killed, beaten and tortured the Marikana strikers to be charged.
  • A minimum wage of R12 500.
  • Health care services, electricity, proper housing and water.
  • Support for women’s livelihoods, including local farming.

The story of the women of Marikana is the story of women living in the very many thousands of informal settlements and mining affected communities across South Africa. It is for this reason that dozens of women’s rights organisations and women have forged a Marikana Women’s Solidarity Forum. If you would like information, wish to organise a solidarity event, or make a contribution to the work of the Forum please e-mail Samantha Hargreaves at samyhargreaves@gmail or Constance

Mogale at .

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