Mon, Aug 19, 2013 - Page 9 News List

Frustration over justice denied in South Africa

A year after police shot 34 miners in Marikana, an event seen as a turning point in the nation’s modern history, nothing has changed

By David Smith  /  The Guardian, MARIKANA, South Africa

The volatile, wildcat strike, in which 44 people died in total, finally ended when Lonmin agreed to pay wage increases of between 11 percent and 22 percent.

However, Nontshakaza says he still earns only 3,000 to 4,000 rand a month (US$300 to US$400), or 6,000 rand, including overtime. Like most miners here, he sends most of it back to his mother and six unemployed siblings in Eastern Cape Province, leaving little for his own expenses. He and his wife have no electricity and cannot afford 800 rand to connect to communal water taps.

“The money is not enough. You see it’s finished and you still haven’t done all the things you need to do. Lonmin doesn’t listen to us at all. It’s a year later and nothing has changed. We are still on low wages and might go on another strike,” Nontshakaza said.

The outcrop where the workers gathered a year ago, singing and waving traditional weapons, was hauntingly silent and serene last week. A series of white crosses erected to honor the dead lay in a broken heap below the curving rocks. The shacks of a nearby informal settlement glinted in the sun and the surrounding area looked much as it did in August last year.

“Like a pig sty,” local activist Primrose Sonti said. “It’s the same as it was. It’s worse.”

The field was a filthy sea of discarded bottles and sweet and condom wrappers. Children played in mounds of rubbish as cows, goats and pigs trotted by, while six dogs lay sleeping in the sun.

Thembi Mathumbu has lived in this grinding poverty since 1996 while minerals worth millions are extracted from the earth beneath her feet.

“We’re suffering,” she said. “We have not received anything from Lonmin. It has not done anything to improve our lives.”

The 63-year-old, who witnessed last year’s massacre from her yard, was friendly with two miners from Lesotho who lost their lives.

“It was a great pain because we were so close to those people. We are very angry because what they did killed a lot of people. The community can never forget what happened,” Mathumbu said.

For some, it was too much to bear. Three months ago the body of Lungani Mabutyana, 27, a rock drill operator, was found hanging from a tree. Chris Molebatsi, a local activist with the Bench Marks Foundation, a corporate social responsibility watchdog, said he is aware of seven suicides in the past year, four of them mine workers.

“It’s basically a reminder of the trauma of the massacre,” he said. “The suicides are telling us the community hasn’t recovered from that. It’s going to take a long time to heal the wounds.”

There have also been several murders in a vicious turf war between supporters of the Association of Mineworkers and Construction Union, recognized last week as the majority union after recruiting 70 percent of the workers here, and the beleaguered National Union of Mineworkers, aligned to the governing African National Congress (ANC). Many say they will vote for expelled ANC youth leader Julius Malema — who raced to the scene in August last year while others dithered — and his new Economic Freedom Fighters (EFF) party in next year’s election.

The ANC stands accused of colluding with mining firms whereas the EFF has vowed to nationalize mines without compensation.

South African President Jacob Zuma set up a judicial commission of inquiry into the massacre, but, bogged down in numerous delays and wrangles over funding, it has not yet cross-examined any police involved in the killings and is fast losing credibility.

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