‘We cannot walk freely’| by Jeanne Hefez

by Jan 21, 2013Magazine

amandla-28-cannot-walk-freelyVoices from Marikana: Lonmin workers speak

It’s nearly four months after the Marikana massacre, and the atmosphere in and around Lonmin is still one of fear in the face of a de facto state of emergency. As Amandla! goes to press, police continue to use excessive force to target and harass strike leaders in their homes and at work, with the tacit agreement of management. Hostels have been raided, shacks have been ransacked, and comrades abducted in the face of a de facto state of emergency. The miners are weary and suspicious of the entire world: their employer, their unions, media, police and the government, and even each other. They have lost any desire to communicate the trauma of the massacre. Most NUM members have fled — the few that have stayed in Marikana trying to quietly get on with their lives. Independent worker leaders barely sleep at night fearing reprisals for their stand against the company. Shacks have been ransacked, and comrades abducted. Miners had to create a human chain around one of them, ‘Rasta’, to prevent his arrest. One woman who stood in solidarity with her brothers was shot by the police during a peaceful march. Hidden from the media’s eye, one of the Lonmin shafts was closed down after the strike, leaving close to 1,200 workers jobless, further straining the already torn social fabric of Marikana

Oblivious to the squalor and intensity of human suffering and emotion around them, the mines once again pulse twenty-four hours a day, seven days a week, like a gigantic heart, while people pick their way through mud and piles of uncollected trash and barbed wire around their perimeter.

At the beginning of November, mine management announced there would be more dismissals. Marikana feels like a furnace that could blow up again at any moment. The workers’ victory and the outcome of the strike are stained with blood, and their relationship with the mine and the National Union of Mineworkers will forever bear the scars. Their stories are not told enough. Many of them died because, at all costs, they rebelled against their poverty trap wages, tried to break the walls of their industry prison and fought for their humanity in barbaric conditions. The workers shattered the institutional processes of collective bargaining and began a revolution in the labor relations regime . Amandla! spent some time with them.

Anele is tense and impatient, fiddling constantly with a little red plastic straw between his teeth as he answers questions.

‘Things are actually worse now than before the strike. Some of us are being arrested and taken to Rustenburg with no clear charges. It’s not safe at all,’ he tells us.

Anele is a Lonmin winch operator in his early 30s, the only breadwinner for a family of five, taking home R4,100 a month after deductions. His wife and children stay in the Eastern Cape and he is lucky if he sees them more than twice a year. When he first came to Marikana eight years ago, he lived in one of the mining hostels, but he left when he realised the company would pay him 1,100 rand a month as a housing allowance to live elsewhere.

Now he shares a tiny shack in Nkaneng (‘the forced place’ in seTswana) with his brother, who came to live with him a year ago. The four families in his yard share one toilet, and there is no running water. There’s just enough room for a fridge, a bed and a broken television set, but some of his housing allowance can now be diverted to feed hungry mouths at home.

His jaw clenches as he fumes over the fact that the cops went through the shack in his absence the previous night. Who knows what would have happened if he and his brother had been there. He and fellow strike leaders haven’t left each others’ sides since the massacre. Some of them are forced to sleep outside at night to evade potential kidnappers. Others have stopped going to work.

He is intensely frustrated, but if he’s scared, he doesn’t let it show. ‘It’s like life was better before because now I have to fear for my life all the time. We are being abused. We cannot walk freely. The bosses and the cops are after us.’

While the commission of inquiry headed by Justice Farlam is gradually unveiling a picture of a massive atrocity followed by an institutional cover-up on a grand scale, miners’ hopes that it will deliver justice are being daily eroded. Witnesses have been harassed, arrested and allegedly tortured in jail. The victims and families of the deceased feel they have been denied their right to mourn in dignity.

The killing of 34 miners by police on August 16 is still uppermost in rigger and youth organiser Lucky’s mind.

‘It was hell,’ he says. ‘I stayed in my room for three days after. I was completely traumatised. To see people dying for their rights is terrible. I thought everything was going to be over after the massacre, but I was wrong. The police come and break into people’s houses at night. they run, they chase people and break doors, taking out people.’

Lucky worked at the mine for almost seven years before he became a permanent employee at Lonmin. He used to earn R2,000 a fortnight as a sub-contracted worker. Before the strike, he made R4,000 a month after deductions, which wasn’t enough to sustain his mother and brother in Gauteng, his girlfriend and his baby. Lucky and his partner moved from a shack to an RDP house where they now rent a room for R800. They share a toilet with eight other families. He’s 27.

‘I’ve given most of my youth to Lonmin,’ he says. ‘Now we have access to water but before we didn’t have anything. That’s why people started striking. They were striking against the poverty, the bad conditions.

‘We earn too little, we can’t afford shit. You cannot build a home on R6,000 a month. You must support your kids, go to work day and night, feed them and put them through school. We work underground all day, it’s hot, some of us get TB. It’s hard. Some of us have diseases that kill us 20 years later.’

Where unions failed to address the problems of poor pay and conditions, new leaders were pushed to the fore.

‘I wanted better sanitation, housing, and more money,’ says Anele. ‘We decided to tell them our grievances and then we were shot at. So we formed a committee and decided to have everyone at Lonmin be on strike. I was one of the strikers to be elected on the strike committee. I started on the 11th.’

Anele ended his membership of the National Union of Mineworkers a year ago to join its small but growing rival, the Association of Mineworkers and Construction Union, because he felt NUM wasn’t representing the workers properly.

‘AMCU joined us and stood with us when we were striking, but they couldn’t represent us because they didn’t have a majority. AMCU was trying to make our situation better but NUM was suppressing them.’

‘We as workers were never divided by the unions. The only ones who were divided were the leaders of the unions. Not us.’

Lucky didn’t start the strike, but he joined it early on. He says that though the workers got R9,000 in the end, after deductions of 14% for tax, and then more for the provident fund and medical fund, they’ll end up getting about R6,000, which is close to what they earned before.

Lucky says the workers around him are happier for the moment, but adds that their pride in winning a wage concession from the company is haunted by the fear that management has lied — and by the pain of seeing so many of their colleagues killed, wounded or dismissed [see Joseph’s story].

In his entire working life, Anele had only received one wage increase. ‘Our lives would be better if we had R12,500. Everything would be better. We have no clothes. We pay the rent and send money home, and we don’t have enough for ourselves.’

Something is still smouldering here in Marikana. Oblivious to the squalor and intensity of human suffering and emotion around them, the mines once again pulse twenty-four hours a day, seven days a week, like a gigantic heart, while people pick their way through mud and piles of uncollected trash and barbed wire around their perimeter.

Hidden from the media’s eye, one of the Lonmin shafts was closed down after the strike, leaving close to 1,200 workers jobless, further straining the already torn social fabric of Marikana. At the beginning of November, mine management announced there would be more dismissals.

‘I’m not even happy about the wage increase,’ says Anele. ‘All of us are unhappy, and if at the end of November we’re still getting the same amount as before, we will go back on strike.’

Lucky agrees, expressing the weary determination of a long-term activist.

‘Some of us were born here, we have been living in shacks for 18 years, we never get development and Lonmin builds new shafts around us all the time. Most of us in Marikana only have grade 12, there’s no training here. People are suffering,’ he says.

‘I’m young. I want to buy a car, build a house for myself and my mom. Right now I can’t save anything, and I don’t even have money for food,’ he says ‘I don’t know if I trust AMCU, we’ll have to see. All I know is that we’re going back on strike if they give us less than what they said. I’m not scared.’

He expects little from the government. ‘The ANC has disappointed me too much. I have a problem with the president and with the ANC: I’m a member and I have been trying to run a youth league so people can exercise their rights while Zuma is building his mansion. I get nothing from them.’

Glancing up at the flickering light bulb in his shack, Anele says, ‘Going forward, my wish is that the next generations really see what happened here. That we sacrificed everything and that we were killed for what we believed in.’

As Reverend Jo Seoka says “what is not recognized is that these are bread and butter issues, a day to day survival issue, and if it is not deal with, then expect many Marikanas.”

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