It’s early morning and I’ve come to a shanty town near Wonderkup in the mining belt of Marikana. Miners come here with the hope of a better life, but standing in the middle of this mess I can’t see how that’s possible. Miners and their families come from the poorest provinces in South Africa and set up shacks using bits of corrugated iron, old timber and anything else they can find. Picture a backyard shed in suburban Australia and you start to get an idea. Now put a family in it with no running water, sewerage or electricity and you almost get there.
This place is putrid, it stinks of human shit and piss that runs down the dusty hot streets. What literally sits on top of this slum is the processing facilities of one of the largest platinum mines in the world; like some Orwellian monolith of the industrial age, the infrastructure fills the sky. Lonmin supplies about a third of the world’s platinum, but none of the wealth has trickled down to this shanty town.
I’ve come to meet two widows who’s husbands, both miners, were killed by the police a year ago for demanding a decent wage. Zameka Nungu and Nonkululeko Ngxande are dressed immaculately, freshly washed and pressed clothes with intricate details. They walk me to their little silver shacks and in this sea of squalor they have a pride of place, a little manicured front garden. Inside is neat and Zameka even has a small fridge.
Their husbands worked long and dangerous hours underground as drillers and the widows tried to raise families as best they could. The hope was to save enough money to get their kids educated, to break the cycle of poverty. But the death of their husbands means their dreams die too; Nonkululeko tells me, “It is very painful. I need him a lot all the time. I do not believe that he is gone, especially when I am suffering like this. Everything was based around him.”
These women now have no idea how they will survive… their only option is to return home to the grinding poverty in the Eastern Cape, a thousand kilometres away. Their story is heartbreaking and before we leave they sing a traditional mourning song which is so haunting and ghostly it has everyone in tears.
This week is the first anniversary of the Marikana mine massacre. About 3,000 striking miners were protesting for a wage increase. The mainly black police opened fire on the crowd and killed 34 miners, injuring 78 more. It is an event that shocked the nation and is seen as a critical moment for the ANC, who have been in power for almost 20 years. It evoked powerful memories of Apartheid massacres, like Sharpville and Soweto, but it was also seen as a turning point – the ANC Government turned its guns on its own.
Nonkululeko, with tears rolling down her face, sums up the feeling of most of those we meet at Wonderkup: “We loved the government but now the ANC does not help. It kills its own people, those who support it to rule this country. It has killed, it has killed our own. We don’t care about it anymore.”
Marikana is also seen as a testament to the failure of the ANC’s economic model. The ANC affiliated unions were meant to keep labour stable and wages low in return for some black ownership of the massive mining companies. It is called Black Economic Empowerment and was meant to deliver for all, but in reality only a tiny few – known in South Africa as the ‘black diamonds’ – have benefitted.
In the afternoon, I met Mzoxolo Magidwana, a miner who survived the Marikana massacre. Remarkably he was shot seven times and survived. Mzoxolo says a policeman from his own tribe repeatedly shot him while looking him in the eye and telling him he didn’t deserve a pay increase.
To restore its reputation the ANC has set up the Marikana Commission of Inquiry, but after 10 months it has been dogged by false starts and delays. Key witnesses have been murdered and legal funding for the widows, like Zameka and Nonkululeko, and survivors like Mzoxolo, is drying up and without their testimony most agree the Marikana Commission has no credibility.
As I was finishing the interview with Mzoxolo I was overcome by a distinct feeling of unease. A thin man with a knife hidden in his sleeve suddenly appeared and was hanging around for too long. I have filmed and reported in dozens of war zones and conflict areas over my career and have rarely experienced a “gut instinct” so strong. At sunset I told the crew it was time to go.
The next day a man was brutally murdered near the location where we had been filming… in the following week another four more were killed. I’m glad I listened to my gut. As I was driving away I was happy to be leaving after just one day. What I cannot fathom is how Zameka and Nonkululeko have survived almost 10 years living in that place.
Watch Matthew Carney’s report “Cry Freedom: Mandela’s Legacy” online.