South Africa

Tears of joy and defiance as the last miners are freed

By Sipho Hlongwane 7 September 2012

The last batch of miners arrested in Marikana walked free Thursday, into the waiting arms of families and friends. The free men told of executions on 16 August and brutality in police custody. For those who waited for their loved ones, life doesn’t promise to be any easier in the coming days as the strike is set to continue. By SIPHO HLONGWANE.

After the National Prosecuting Authority (NPA) announced that most of the miners arrested at Marikana would be released from custody on a free bail, the first walked free on Monday. Due to the sheer numbers of the arrested (270 in total) and some bureaucratic bungling on the part of the responsible officials, the process was drawn out over four days. But by Thursday, the last of those who had been charged for murder and attempted murder under the “common purpose” provision were set free. They must return in February 2013 to face charges on public violence. That did not dampen the spirit Thursday, as they tearfully greeted friends and families who had come to meet them outside the Ga-Rankuwa Magistrates Court. 

The group was also met by representatives from Friends of the ANC Youth League, which organised transport home to avoid the unwanted spectacle of the freed men being loaded into police trucks to make the trip back to Marikana. Several miners who were not arrested on 16 August were there as well – as were the wives and mothers who could afford the trip.

Photo: Mzilikazi greets his mother shortly after being released from the Ga-Rankuwa Magistrates Court. Sipho Hlongwane/DAILY MAVERICK

The meeting was, as you can expect, joyful. One old lady said she was there to see if her son, Mzilikazi, was truly alive and about to be freed. Her anxiousness was due to the fact that for some days following the mass killings and arrests many family members did not know if their men were in hospital, prison or the morgue. Her excitement was so great that the only information I could extract from her before she saw her son was his name.

After they met, she led him to the waiting cameras so he could tell the world what had happened to him since his arrest. His story was similar to the one told by those who were freed on Monday: after they were arrested, they endured severe beatings at the hand of the police until they were taken to a correctional services facility, where things were “not so bad there”.

Watch: Recently-released Marikana miner Mzilikazi speaks to the media

Another lady, who declined to be named or photographed, was there to meet her husband. She said that she was from Nquthu in KwaZulu-Natal (about 100 kilometres north of Nkandla, home of President Jacob Zuma), but lived in Marikana. She said that life had become even more unbearable since her husband’s arrest.

“We have nothing to eat. We drink water for supper and go to sleep. Our men were arrested, weren’t they?” she said. “I’m just happy to have him back. I don’t know what will happen next, but I just want to take my husband home.”

She said Lonmin would have to now give her husband the R12,500 monthly net salary that they demanded for those who died, and also to help her support her family (they have children in KwaZulu-Natal).

A friend who accompanied her from Marikana said that while she had serious doubts about ever voting for the ANC again, she probably would if another president was elected as “Zuma did nothing to help us”.

The husband in question, after he walked out of the court, told me he was beaten and saw others get beaten by the police at the Phokeng station.

Later, I talked to two men who gave a chilling account of what happened at the small koppie, where we strongly suspect that most of the 34 dead and 78 injured were shot. (Police have yet to comment on the deaths that television footage didn’t capture.) They confirmed what had been said by other witnesses we mentioned. 

Photo: One of the leaders of the Marikana striking miners leads his recently-freed comrades in an anti-Zuma and anti-NUM demonstration. Sipho Hlongwane/DAILY MAVERICK

One man, who identified himself as King, said he was on the Wonderkop when the police began the attack. When the miners saw their route back to their homes was blocked by armoured trucks and barbed wire, they ran towards the small koppie. On the way there, a police helicopter dropped down and offloaded some cops, who immediately began firing upon the fleeing men. Those who had reached the koppie then decided to hide, because the other side was blocked off by more armoured trucks and dog units. He said that he was among those who lay flat on the ground. A “hippo” (military armoured truck) in army camouflage drove into the area, and a man who had been hiding behind one of the rocks jumped up with his hands in the air, and was shot in his right hand and chest. He got up again, and was shot in the right thigh.

King said the reason the man got up from his hiding place among the rocks was because another old man, also hiding, said that they should surrender. When that man got up with his hands in the air, he was shot in the head.

This testimony mirrors that of another witness interviewed by Daily Maverick.

Photo: One of the freed miners was on crutches. He said that he was shot at Marikana, and was arrested after being discharged from hospital. Sipho Hlongwane/DAILY MAVERICK

The released men weren’t sure what would happen next. All they could unequivocally assure us of was that they would not return to work if the company would not give them the R12,500 that they wanted.

We were still animatedly discussing what would happen next when the taxis began filling up. The two men were among the last to get in, leaving me wanting to know so much more. Their memories of what happened immediately after they saw the shootings are a little hazy – they describe being in absolute terror – but their recount of events is uniform and mind-blowing. What was the small koppie incident, if not cold-blooded murder?

As they marched to the waiting taxis, they sang songs denouncing Zuma and Senzeni Zokwana, president of the National Union of Mineworkers. DM

Read more:

  • The murder fields of Marikana. The cold murder fields of Marikana. Daily Maverick.

MAIN PHOTO: Freed Marikana miners outside the Ga-Rankuwa Magistrates Court. Sipho Hlongwane/DAILY MAVERICK


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