The Man in the Green Blanket – a story about South Africa today

Published May 2015

Published by The Guardian
May 19 2015

On August 16 2012, South African police opened fire on a large crowd of men who had walked out on strike from a platinum mine at Marikana, about 80 miles north of Johannesburg. They shot down 112 of them, killing 34.

In any country, this would have been a traumatic moment. For South Africa, it was a special kind of nightmare since it revived images of massacre by the state in the old apartheid era with the one brutal difference that this time it was predominantly black policemen with black senior officers working for black politicians who were doing the shooting.

President Jacob Zuma appointed a commission of inquiry, chaired by a retired judge, Ian Farlam, which eventually sat for a total of 293 days, hearing live evidence from miners, their bosses and the police; and uncovering video, audio and paper records of the shooting and of the seven-day strike which preceded it. At the end of March this year, the commission delivered its report to Zuma, who so far has failed to publish its findings. Those who may find themselves accused of colluding in the police action include not only senior figures from the ruling African National Congress but also the British company which owns the Marikana mine, Lonmin.

Over and again during the evidence before the Farlam inquiry, one particular miner came to the fore. In videos of marches and meetings during the strike, this was largely because he wore a bright green blanket around his shoulders. Beyond that, it was because during those seven days of conflict, he emerged from nowhere as the leader, making passionate speeches through a loud hailer, negotiating with police, standing in the front line as the shooting broke out. He died that afternoon, with fourteen bullets in his face and neck and legs.

This is the story of the man in the green blanket – Mgcineni Noki, then aged 30, known to his family and friends as ‘Mambush’. It may also stand as part of the story of what has happened in South Africa since apartheid was voted into the dust of history 21 years ago. Mambush – an unknown rock drill operator with no official rank – emerges from the mass of black workers as a rebel leader demanding justice, while those who were once the spearhead of the fight against repression act as a shield protecting privilege and exploitation and extreme violence. It is a story about power changing hands and changing colour but failing finally to change the lives of those in whose name that power is held.

**

The Lonmin smelter stands like a vast cathedral of commerce over the bleak landscape below, its towering chimney reaching for heaven, its conveyor belt constantly shuffling a fortune in unrefined platinum. The miners live in its shadow. Their homes are one-room shacks, ten foot by eight foot. Some of them are built of brieze blocks; most are patchworks of rusting corrugated iron tacked onto a framework of timber torn from local trees. The shacks huddle together, several hundred at a time, in what Lonmin calls ‘informal settlements’. They have no roads, only dirt tracks which turn greasy in the rain, all speckled with scraps of paper, old carrier bags and drink cans. A few chicken peck the mud. Goats stroll by.

For as far as the eye can see on all sides, huge pylons march across the landscape like robot soldiers bringing electricity to the mines deep below, but most of the shacks have no electricity (though some steal it on cables which sag between the rooves among the washing lines.) The mines have water, too, to wash the ore. But not the shacks: some of the men share a communal tap with a dozen others (though many of them have been broken and dry for months); some drink straight from milky streams which run nearby. Some share communal toilets, which stand like corrugated-iron cupboards in gaps between the homes; others use the soil.

In one of the shacks on one of these settlements lives Mbulelo Noki, a lean, fit man in blue jeans and Levi shirt, now aged 35. He has a double bed, neatly made; a small table with a plastic cloth; a metal wardrobe with the torn remains of an old ANC sticker on the door; a cardboard box; an empty Coca Cola bottle. Mbulelo is Mambush’s cousin – their fathers were brothers. The two of them grew up together in a tiny village called Thwalikhulu, which sits high on the rim of a pale green valley, some 600 miles south of here in the Eastern Cape. The two boys were close. Mambush’s father died before he was born, and so Mbulelo’s father helped the bereaved family to survive. As they reached adolesence, the cousins went together into the hills to build a hut and to go through the rituals and circumcision which marked their graduation to manhood. Then later they worked together, as rock drill operators, five kilometres below the ground.

Mbulelo says Mambush nearly missed the strike which killed him. The two of them were there as it was launched, on Thursday August 9 2012, when hundreds of rock drill operators gathered on the parched grass of the Wonderkop football stadium which stands near the admin buildings at the centre of the mine. They were angry that the rock drill operators at the Impala platinum mine, 30 miles away near the town of Rustenburg, had emerged from a long and sometimes violent strike with new pay rates, while they remained on four to five thousand rand a month (about $400). Now they demanded 12,500 rand and agreed they would not turn up for work the next day.

But by the time Friday morning came, the two cousins had heard that their uncle – the younger brother to their fathers – had died. He had been been working at the Impala mine. He had been diagnosed with tuberculosis. As the second day of the strike unfolded, they set off to retrieve his body and to arrange the funeral which would take place back at their village in the Eastern Cape. So they missed the first sign of violence.

It happened on the Friday evening. Small groups of strikers had gone to two of the shafts where some men were still working. The strikers ‘toyi-toyied’ – jogging in step, chanting in time – urging them to join them. Some waved sticks. Lonmin security men asked police who were watching to disperse the strikers. The police said the strikers were not causing any trouble. Nevertheless, Lonmin security then opened fire with volleys totaling more than 40 rubber bullets. Two strikers were seriously injured and hospitalised. Much later, the Lonmin log book which had recorded this was submitted to the Farlam inquiry – with all reference to the shooting deleted.

The strikers did not know that on the previous evening, Lonmin’s executive vice president, Barnard Mokwena, had written an internal memo advising that the company should not tolerate demands which were ‘outside the collective bargaining structure.’ He was touching on something which was at the core of events: the strikers were rejecting their own union, the National Union of Mineworkers, accusing it of supporting the bosses against them. Since the union was not involved, the company could choose not to recognise the strike and not to negotiate. Mokwena urged that instead of talking, the company should sack the strikers and call in the police to deal with them. That policy was to become crucial.

By Friday night, Mbulelo and Mambush were back from Impala and arguing: Mbulelo wanting to leave to arrange their uncle’s funeral, Mambush determined to join the strike. That night, he called his wife, Veronica, who was living with their two-year-old daughter, Asive, in Carletonville, a gold-mining town 90 miles to the west. This was the town where Mambush had first worked as a miner, in 2004. In 2008, he had injured his shoulder in a rock fall and had gone to the medical station where Veronica was an admin assistant. They had started a relationship which continued even though Mambush soon moved to Marikana, where the pay was better and the rock was harder and safer than in Carletonville.

Veronica had not known Mambush to get involved in a strike before, though she knew that he was angry with the NUM. Sitting on the old plastic chairs under the tree at the back of her house, he had often talked to her and her father, Ephraim, about how the NUM shop stewards were taken out of the mine and given payrises by the company and cars and mobile phones too and how very soon they stopped speaking up for the people who had elected them. “The NUM is a sell out,” she remembers him saying. She remembers also one time when she was visiting him in Marikana, that he disappeared for an hour to register with a new radical breakway union – the Association of Mineworkers and Construction Union, Amcu.

He had talked often too, about the real problem, that he was struggling to get by on 5,000 rand a month. He was sending most of it back to his family in the Eastern Cape and then paying for rent on his shack as well as food for himself. Often he would have to borrow to get through to the end of the month, sometimes from friends, sometimes from the ‘microlender’ banks who specialised in pay-day loans at interest rates as high as 50% a month. She had told him not to worry about sending money to her and Asive. She had a brick-built house and a college education (both benefits of the Mandela era) and was earning enough to get by. “Let’s deal with other issues,” I said. “I will take care of the baby.”

Now, on the Friday night, his explanation for staying with the strikers was simple: “The money is so little. It’s a must.” She told him there was no way they would get 12,500 rand, but she was not worried about him. Not just then. Over the following three days, the strike tumbled into a vortex of violence – a horribly familiar pattern in a country which suffers 18,000 murders a year.

On Saturday morning, the strikers gathered in the football stadium and decided to march to the NUM office, close by Lonmin’s, to protest that union officials had been touring the shacks urging their members to go to work. Some of the strikers were carrying sticks and chanting aggressively. The Farlam inquiry later heard that an NUM official gathered some 30 of his members in their office and gave them long ‘panga’ blades and at least one gun. As the strikers approached, they heard gunfire and turned and scattered. NUM men pursued them. Some strikers were beaten and cut. Two fell with bullet wounds and were hospitalised. They survived, although at the time the others understood that they were dead. The strikers reacted by abandoning the football stadium as a meeting place, because it was too close to the NUM, and assembling instead on a ‘koppie’ – a rocky hill, which stood on a wide plane of wasteland near one of the settlements; and by collecting cash and sending for a local sangoma – a traditional healer – in hopes he could protect them from violence.

And now others joined the strike – not just the rock drill operators who had started it but other Lonmin workers who were furious when they heard that the NUM was colluding with the company and had shot two of their comrades. One of the new recruits was a friend of Mambush, a short muscular man named Xolani Nzuza, then aged 27, who managed a shackland football team in which Mambush played. Xolani originally had come to Marikana eight years earlier to finish college, aiming to become a social worker, but he had run out of money and in 2006, he had turned to the mine for income. Like Mambush, the previous year he had abandoned the NUM and joined Amcu. Now he was outraged, as he put it later: “The people who should be negotiating for us were shooting at us.” Clever and articulate, Xolani was to become Mambush’s deputy at the head of the strike.

The killing escalated alarmingly. On the following day, Sunday 12th, a small group of about 150 strikers marched from their new base on the koppie to the Lonmin office. There were scuffles. A striker threw a rock. A security guard fired a shotgun. The strikers massed forward. Some of them were now carrying pangas, and they used them with deadly force, slashing one guard from armpit to hip and setting on two others who were trapped by the crowd and who were hacked to death. One of the bodies was then burned beyond recognition. Over the following 24 hours, two miners were killed as they tried to go to work in the hours of darkness.

Looking back at these events, the Farlam inquiry uncovered fault on all sides – the opening violence by Lonmin and the NUM; a complete absence of investigation of that violence by the South African Police Service, Saps; barbaric behaviour by those strikers who had now killed four people who defied them; and an apparently callous decision by Lonmin. As counsel to the Farlam inquiry put it: “It appears that it was possible for Lonmin to close the mine in order to protect its workers but that for business reasons, it elected not to do so.”

Veronica says Mambush was worried, telling her in phone calls: “This is so messy. This is getting too violent.” She pleaded with him to come to stay with her, but evidently it was at this point that he decided to try to take the lead, to steer the strikers away from violence and back to their real aim, to negotiate a pay rise.

By early the next afternoon, Monday 13th, he was at the head of some 200 strikers who marched from the koppie to picket one of the mineshafts, where they had heard NUM members were still working. When Lonmin security barred their way and told them there was nobody working there, Mambush simply turned the march around and headed back towards the koppie, only to be stopped by the police who insisted that they must give up the sticks and pangas which they were carrying. Saps video caught Mambush, with Xolani by his side, reasoning with them: “Please open the way for us. That’s the only thing we are asking for. We are not fighting with anyone. We just want to go to the koppie.” Soon, the strikers had agreed that, if the police would escort them to protect them from attack by NUM members, they would surrender their weapons when they reached the safety of the koppie. The senior policeman on the scene appeared willing to accept this until – as the video shows – he took a phone call.

What Mambush did not know was that at that moment, the provincial chief of the South African Police Service, Lt Gen Mirriam Mbombo, was sitting with Lonmin managers, monitoring the strikers on CCTV. She had set up a Joint Ops Centre in Lonmin’s office, where, according to evidence at the Farlam inquiry, her officers were working not only with the company but also with NUM officials who were helping them to identify strike leaders.

When he came off the phone, the senior officer was no longer willing to compromise. He would count to ten, he said, by which time all of the strikers must have surrendered all their sticks and pangas. The strikers replied by chanting in Xhosa: “No matter how big your make your balls, you are nothing.” And with that, crouching low to show they planned no attack, Mambush to the fore, they began walking slowly towards the koppie. Police video shows that all was peaceful for several minutes – until somewhere some officers started lobbing tear gas and stun grenades at them. Nobody has ever established whether they were ordered to do this. The result was disaster. The miners started to run. Police ran after them. Two officers were surrounded by strikers and cut down and killed. Strikers stole their guns. In the melee, some of the dead men’s colleagues then turned on their own senior officer, blaming him for the deaths and threatening to kill him. Other officers pursued the fleeing strikers. Several miners were shot. Three died. None of them was carrying a firearm. One was killed like game in a hunt – shot through the head from an assault rifle at a distance of more than 70 metres. That evening, photos of the hacked bodies of the two dead officers are said to have been circulated among Saps officers across the country.

When Mambush and the others straggled back to the koppie, his cousin Mbulelo was there and heard Mambush speak to the crowd, reporting the deaths – acting as leader. That evening, Mbulelo called Veronica and begged her to come to Marikana: “I tried to talk to him, told him he must come back, but he doesn’t want to listen to me. He will listen to you. Please come.”

But Veronica could not come. She was working and she had no money to get to Marikana. All she could do was to pass on her own warning to Mambush: “If police officers are killed, this is a very very dangerous situation.”

She says she was thinking he would get arrested and put in jail but that he seemed to have something worse in mind, telling her: “If anything happens to me, take care of everything, take care of my family because I trust you.”

“Why? Where are you going?”

“If anything happens to me… Be strong for my baby.”

In truth, the danger was worse than either of them could see.

**

When Nelson Mandela took power in 1994, he was backed by what South Africans call the ‘tripartite alliance’: the ANC; the Congress of South African Trade Unions, Cosatu; and the South African Communist Party. What Mambush and his wife did not know was that his act of rebellion on a koppie somewhere north of Johannesburg was spitting into the face of that alliance; and, worse, that members of the alliance were in contact with two of the most senior police officers in the Saps, who wielded not only political power but the power of life and death. There was a lot of activity behind the scenes.

On Monday evening – at about the same time as Mambush was talking to his wife – the chief commercial officer of Lonmin was writing to the Minister of Mines, Susan Shabangu, urging her to “bring the full might of the state to bear on the situation.” Shabangu had previously been deputy minister for security. Notoriously, in April 2008, she had addressed a meeting of police officers with advice about dealing with offenders: “You must kill the bastards if they threaten you or your community. You must not worry about the regulations. That is my responsibility.”

On the following day, Tuesday 14th, as hundreds of strikers on the koppie were given safety rituals by the local sangoma’s two sons, Lonmin executives met secretly with the provincial police chief, Lt Gen Mbombo. The meeting was recorded. The transcript shows the company vice president Barnard Mokwena making the bold declaration that their priority was not negotiating or settling the strike but “getting people arrested.” Even bolder, the transcript shows, Lt Gen Mbombo stepped outside the conventional role of a police chief, encouraging the company to take a hard line and explicitly injecting the politics of the tripartite alliance into the meeting.

Central to her thinking was the behaviour of Cyril Ramaphosa – founder of the National Union of Mineworkers, one of the founders of Cosatu, the man who wrote the new South African constitution, one of the great heroes of the anti-apartheid movement. Like other ANC leaders, he had also been one of the beneficiaries of the Black Economic Empowerment programme, which now required South African companies to yieid more than 25% of their shares to black owners and to give 40% of the seats on their board to black directors. By August 2012, through his company, Shanduka, Ramaphosa was reckoned to be worth some $700 million, with shares and directorships in numerous companies – including Lonmin. The former NUM leader’s company now owned 9% of the mining company’s shares and he sat on its board as a non-executive director.

Mbombo explained that she had been talking to her boss, the national police commissioner, Riah Phiyega, and that when she told her that Ramaphosa owned Lonmin shares, Phiyega had replied with a strong hint that she had been coming under some kind of pressure: “Now I got it,” she had said. Mbombo explained this to the Lonmin executives in terms that went to the heights of the ANC. She said Ramaphosa had been directly involved in the ANC expelling a powerful rebel from its ranks – Julius Malema, formerly the radical leader of the ANC’s youth wing, now leader of the upstart opposition Economic Freedom Fighters. Malema had turned up at the last platinum strike – at the Impala mine a few months earlier – and had taken the credit for making peace. If Malema turned up and did the same at Marikana, she said, it would look like he was in charge of the mines. The situation, she said, “has a serious political connotation that we need to take into account.”

And there was another alliance player to consider. Mbombo advised the Lonmin executives that they must be careful not to favour Amcu over the NUM – the most powerful member of Cosatu. She said her boss, Phiyega, had passed a similar warning to another Lonmin executive on the previous evening. Mbombo was worried, she said, that by settling their strike, the Impala management had looked like allies of Amcu, and that generally trouble was erupting because the mining companies wanted to replace the NUM with the new union.

Lt Gen Mbombo’s conclusion was hardline. She would give the strikers a chance to surrender their weapons, she said, and, if that did not work: “Then it is blood.” She went on to qualify that, saying “I do not want a situation where 20 people are dead. This is not what we are here for.” Barnard Mokwena from Lonmin appeared not to understand this. During the meeting, he discussed the resources that were available to police, adding: “The ones that impress me – the snipers.”

But he and the police chief agreed on the central point. “We need to act such that we kill this thing,” said Lt Gen Mbombo.

“Immediately,” replied Mokwena.

The following day, Wednesday 15th, Ramaphosa was busy. From his position on the board of Lonmin, the former union leader could have argued for negotiation, even for a better deal for the workers. Instead – as a chain of emails released to the Farlam inquiry disclosed – he argued for the police to move in. In a message to fellow directors, he wrote: “The terrible events that have unfolded cannot be described as a labour dispute. They are plainly dastardly criminal and must be characterised as such…. There needs to be concomitant action to address this situation.”

In other emails that day, he recorded that he had told the police minister that “we are essentially dealing with a criminal act”; and told the mines minister, Susan Shabangu, “that silence and inaction about what is happening at Lonmin was bad for her and the government”; and that Shabangu was briefing President Zuma and would persuade the police minister “to act in a more pointed way.”

Mambush and some 4,000 men on the koppie knew nothing of this. Indeed, they were hopeful. They had formally elected Mambush, Xolani and three others to speak for them. From the safety of an armoured car, officers had agreed to talk, with Mambush standing on their front bumper and leaning in to the windscreen to make sure they understood the one thing they wanted – negotiation. Now, the president of Amcu, Joseph Mathunjwa, had come to the koppie with a welcome message: a Lonmin executive had told him that if they would go back to work, the company would address their grievances. This looked like an agreement to negotiate. The strikers, who had not all joined Amcu, said they needed time to think and agreed that Mathunjwa should come back to them at nine o’clock the following morning. Mathunjwa told a senior police officer: “I believe that tomorrow will be a day of joy for everyone.”

That evening, in a Johannesburg suburb, there was a meeting of the National Management Forum of the South African police. The meeting was made aware of the Amcu leader’s initiative and its potential for peace and yet – as an official minute recorded: “After deliberations, the meeting endorsed the proposal to disarm the protesting masses and further indicated that additional resources must be made available.” The phone records of Lt Gen Mbombo show that immediately after this meeting, she called two Lonmin executives. If police were ending the strike, Lonmin no longer had any reason to negotiate.

At Marikana that Wednesday night, more than 550 Saps officers gathered. Their leaders ordered 4,000 rounds of live ammunition and requested mortuary vans with enough berths for 16 bodies.

**

Early on Thursday morning, Joseph Mathunjwa from Amcu met Lonmin executives to sort out details of his plan for the strikers’ return to work. Unaware of the moves behind the scenes, he ran into a dead end: the company now refused to discuss anything. On the koppie, the strikers saw 9am pass with no sign of the Amcu leader. At 9.30, Lt Gen Mbombo held a press conference in which she said nothing about Mathunjwa’s plan and declared simply: “We are ending the strike today.” At 10.30, still waiting for the Amcu leader, Mambush saw police rolling out barbed wire in front of the koppie and angrily called on them to take it away. At noon, Mathunjwa came to the koppie, told the strikers he was getting nowhere and then went back to try again.

Mambush tried to raise morale, talking to the strikers through a megaphone, his left hand beating the air, urging them to stay until Lonmin agreed to negotiate: “We are tired of being captive. We will decide who will remain here – either the police or us. You cannot have two bulls in the same kraal.” At 1.30, senior police met to discuss their plan to ‘disarm and disperse’ the strikers. Ten minutes later, the Anglican bishop of Pretoria, Johannes Seoka, unexpectedly came to the koppie. Xolani remembers the bishop telling him and Mambush that he had seen the strike on television and that they were so suspicious of him that they made him show his driving licence to prove he really was the bishop of Pretoria. Xolani says they asked him to send food and to urge Lonmin to speak to them. Xolani took his mobile phone number.

In the Lonmin office, Mathunjwa tried to speak to Lt Gen Mbombo and was told she had left the building. He offered Lonmin a compromise deal on the strikers’ wage demand, but they declined to meet him. At 3.30 the Amcu leader came back to the koppie and spoke to the strikers with passion, at one point dropping to his knees: “Comrades, the life of a black person in Africa is so cheap… They will kill us, they will finish us and then they will replace us and continue to pay wages that cannot change black people’s lives. That would mean we were defeated and that the capitalists will win. But we have another way. We urge you – brothers, sisters, men – I am kneeling down – coming to you as nothing. Let us stop this bloodshed that the NUM allowed this employer to let flow. We do not want bloodshed!”

As he finished, hundreds of striking miners began to walk down from the koppie. Xolani was at the top of the rock hill and from there he had been watching what looked like preparations for war: firearms being handed out; police vans with racks of coiled barbed wire; three helicopters circling. He called Mambush on his phone to warn him. Mambush was in a small group at the foot of the koppie. One of those alongside him was Mzoxolo Magidiwana, known as ‘Mzo’, a burly loco driver, aged 24. He knew Mambush from their villages in the Eastern Cape where they had played football against each other. He says the police said nothing – no ultimatum to leave or face force – but that Mambush simply decided to lead them away, saying “Don’t run. We haven’t done anything wrong.”

Mzo stayed close to Mambush as their group set off on the walk to the nearest shack settlement some 400 metres across the wasteland. Video of the scene shows hundreds of armed policemen moving around them. As the group approached the settlement, a police van raced across in front of them, uncoiling barbed wire, which blocked their path. Mambush led them to the left around a small animal kraal, made of bushes and blackthorn trees, the kraal on their right. But as they reached the far side of the kraal, with the settlement in front of them, more police vans blocked their path. There was tear gas. A water cannon opened fire. And then bullets, from behind and to their left. Mzo remembers them running to their right through a small gap between the kraal and the settlement – straight into yet more bullets, this time from in front of them. He felt three bullets pierce his left side – in the buttock, ribs and elbow. He fell, saw others fall, saw Mambush go down, felt a fourth bullet in his right thigh as he squirmed on the ground. He lay still on his back. He says his legs would not move. The firing had stopped. Then two or three police officers were standing over him.

He says they started asking him about the sangoma whose sons had performed the traditional rituals for the strikers – who he was, where he was – and that when he told them that he didn’t know, they shot him again in the right side of his ribs. They asked more questions, he gave bad answers and then, he says, one of the officers kicked his legs apart and they shot him twice in the groin, ruining his bladder and testicles. Before he passed out, he heard two officers arguing about whether to finish him off, one of them saying there was no need, he would die anyway. Through the dust he could see bodies, somebody with a head wound which seemed to expose their brain, and then Mambush, lying crashed downwards on his front, the green blanket tangled around one shoulder, his mouth slightly open, dust on his tongue.

From the top of the koppie, Xolani had watched the attack begin. At first he was going to follow Mambush. He remembers hearing the shooting, running into a miner called Liau, saying he could not see Mambush any more, saying now they must go in the other direction where there were a couple of smaller koppies to hide in. But Liau ignored him and ran towards the settlement and was shot in the chest – one of seventeen men who died there. Xolani went in the opposite direction, tearing off his jacket as he went in case it identified him as a strike leader and a target.

For fifteen minutes, there was no firing. Then two groups of officers closed in one of the two smaller koppies. Several dozen strikers were now hiding among its rocks and bushes. Police opened fired – with 295 bullets in an explosion of intense fire, much of it aimed from the top of the koppie down at the shapes of men huddling below. Seventeen more men died here. One of the helicopters was lobbing stun grenades at fleeing miners. As Xolani zig-zagged through the chaos, he pulled out his phone and pushed the number for the bishop of Pretoria. Both men remember what he said when he got through: “Father, they are killing us.”

**

High over a valley in the Eastern Cape, twenty of Mambush’s family and friends gather in a rondavel – a traditional round hut, about 20 feet in diameter, built out of baked mud and dung with a thatched roof. They have come to talk to the Guardian and to Jim Nichol, the veteran campaigning lawyer from London, who travelled to Marikana after the shootings and volunteered to represent the families of the 34 dead men.

They talk about the funeral, when Mambush was brought back here, to the village where he grew up, and how many hundreds came down from Johannesburg in coaches and how they were joined by the local clan chief and by ward councillors and how even the police tried to send their bosses along, but the villagers told them they were not welcome. Mzo was not there – he stayed in hospital for three months. But Mbulelo was there, carrying the coffin; and Xolani, who was still involved in the strike which held out for five weeks after the killings, before Lonmin finally agreed to negotiate and to pay 7% higher wages. Veronica also came to the funeral, with Mambush’s little daughter, Asive. Tucked into her bag, she carried a green blanket stained with blood which she burned there in a kind of sacrament.

Jim Nichol tells them the latest from the Farlam inquiry, which not only explored the strike and shooting but also uncovered evidence that, when the killing was done, Saps officers planted weapons on some of the dead bodies and then set about ‘reverse engineering’ a false story to justify their action. Counsel for the inquiry accused six senior officers of giving false testimony and found that Saps had concealed video and minutes which contradicted their story and fabricated other material to try to support it.

Mambush’s family talk about life in the village, about the engine of progress since 1994 when Mandela became president. The ragged old rondavels which housed the junior school nearby were torn down and replaced with new brick buildings. The government delivered a new tarmac road to the village, a new bus to take children to the high school (in his day, Mambush had to walk the five kilometres there and back), and a new health clinic. And yet, they say, things have not changed so much. They still live in the three rondavels which form the heart of their village, most of them sleeping on the ground. They still have no electricity. They cook over wood fires and use paraffin lamps for light. They still have no mains water and still drink from the same stream as their cattle. And they say that for some reason the new bus stopped running after less than a year. And the health clinic is too far to reach.

Above all, they still have no real income. Since 1994, they are better off. They have social grants – modest but nonetheless important state funds for pensioners and the sick. And at school there is a feeding scheme – porridge at the beginning of the day, a proper meal at lunch. But the reality is that now, as for decades, they rely on the menfolk, like Mambush, migrating north to work beneath the ground and to send home enough to keep them alive. Somewhere along the line, the engine of progress has got stuck.

ENDS

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