Archives for posts with tag: Lonmin

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.


The last time I had someone say it to me was a few years ago when I had moved to Central Australia to work. I had seen groups of Aboriginals bedded-down on the sand of the dry Todd River as a taxi drove me from the Alice Springs airport to my new share house. My comment to the taxi driver was that the sight of the black Australians roughing it on one side of the Stuart Highway was a striking juxtaposition against the neat suburban, mostly white houses on the opposite side of the road. His wry response in welcoming me to my new town drove home a reality hidden from urban Australians. Australia has a black history.

So when I heard it again, it caught my attention. “Welcome to Johannesburg” this time was delivered in that unique ‘Seth Africarn’ accent of the Boer. “Lock all your doors,” said my taxi driver. “And do up your seatbelts,” came next. “If anyone approaches the car when we stop at the lights, don’t give them eye contact. They’re only looking for sympathy.

I asked him how long he had lived in Johannesburg; he said his whole life, “except for National Service.” Sam needed little prompting to start his tale of the evils of the ANC and Mandela, and the injustice of the ending of Apartheid. “It should never have happened. The blacks are tribal and are stealing everything for themselves. They don’t care about each other. You can see that by the way they live.”

So what went wrong? “Bloody de Klerk caved in and gave the country away, for nothing. We had built it, the blacks just took all the benefits. Without us they would still be living in caves,” he grunted.

If we had been left alone we would have sorted them out. We had them on the run in Angola, and in Namibia. They were migrants anyway, all moved down from north two hundred years ago, killing the people who were here and taking their land.”

How would it have been ‘sorted out’? “Well, we fought them back. We cleared them out. I was in the Army, in the Special Forces, and we made a good job of it. When we hit a village, they knew it. We had to kill them all, the women, children, and we had to kill the babies. Don’t get me wrong, it was terrible. We couldn’t leave the little wretches there to starve.”

Silence for a few minutes. Sam was obviously in thought, his face showed no emotion, his eyes seemed locked on a spot far ahead up the road. “I did a lot of killing in those days,” slowly he spoke. “But if we didn’t kill them, they would have killed us. They would have cut the throats of every farmer and their families, until the land was empty. It was the plan to make southern Africa a Soviet satellite state – Angola was first, then Mozambique, Rhodesia, and then us. You know we were fighting against the Cubans and the Russians. And we cleaned them up too. Heh.

It was like World War three and the United Nations all together. There were Australians here too, soldiers who’d been in Vietnam. They couldn’t face life at home so they joined us, in the Buffalo Brigade, fighting the Ruskies. They were good fighters, the Aussies. Some stayed here after but most went home to Australia when Mandela came in. And they were bloody good drinkers too. But that’s a big secret, you can’t even talk about that now days. South Africa has its share of secrets.”

Like the nuclear weapons program?  “Ahh yes yes, we had the bomb! We had six of them, and we were going to use them against the fucking Cubans. The Americans tried to make us stop developing them, so it was all hush-hush. We tested one once to make sure they worked, and they did. We would have been the strongest country in Africa. Us in the south, and the Israelis in the north, we could have made all of Africa a fucking zone of peace!

I thought Louis Theroux should have been here interviewing this guy, but no he was sitting next to me driving his Peugeot, running red lights taking me to my hotel.

What happens if we get car-jacked, Sam? “Just do what I do. Take your left hand and show it is empty, then lift the seatbelt out away from your chest like this. Then with your right hand undo the buckle and slowly let the belt go. With both hands in view, open the door and get out, then run away, fast. That’s if they have a gun.

And if they don’t? “Depends on how big they are. Either drive around them or drive over them, and keep going. But if they get the door open, and they have a knife or weapon, you best run. But if they don’t, I would smack them until they’re crying for me to stop.”

Once I had a guy get in and put a knife to my ribs. He said ‘Go. Fast.’ So I did. I knew if he got me off the main road into a side road I would be dead – he would get me to stop then cut me up for fun, before taking the car. So I knew I had to stay on the main road and not to stop. I took it up to over a hundred and screamed at him, ‘If you are going to kill me, we might as well both die, right now, I’ll crash the car!’ So I made him throw the knife out the window; he was really scared. And I would have crashed it too, no point being dead and letting him take the car.

They understand that. Just like how they fought, no good at hand-to-hand combat. Only brave with an AK in their hand. Ha!

So what will happen when Mandela dies? “Fuck man, it will be like Zimbabwe. They are all corrupt and they will start stealing and killing the whites. They are still jealous of what we have, what we built. Zuma will be like Mugabe, locking up people who oppose him, killing the opposition. It’ll be mayhem.

But you wait, within two years, he’ll be gone – and we’ll take it back from him. All the former fighters in the Army are spread around the world working protecting mines and as security in Afghanistan and places. Give them the call, and in 24 hours they will be back here. And they’ll take the country back. You believe me, it’s going to happen.

Tick, tick, tick, the side lights flashed as we turned into the driveway of the hotel. A surprised black face looked out of the security peephole and then buzzed the high iron gate open. It was dark, we drove up the gravel drive, and I wouldn’t see the electric fence and razor-wire on top of the surrounding wall till after breakfast.

Sam said “I’ve got my journals. I could show you if you buy me a whiskey. I haven’t read them in years. They have all the stories, all the details about the campaigns, the battles, the special ops and the fuck-ups too. And I have a shoebox full of photos too, some are very brutal, very honest. They show what it was like. Nobody believes it today. So when? Tomorrow evening, I’ll be here. You wait, you won’t believe what I can tell you.

I wondered if Sam would show up, or with a clear head think better of it in the morning. South Africa has too many secrets for such a beautiful country. And some will stay secret; we didn’t see Sam again.


Producer Peter Cronau travelled to South Africa with reporter Matthew Carney and cameraman Louie Eroglu to make this report “Cry Freedom: Mandela’s Legacy“.

NB: This story is based on a real events; names changed to protect the innocent.