South Africa

Reporter’s notebook: A day in Marikana’s theatre of the absurd

By Sipho Hlongwane 11 September 2012

On Monday, the striking miners at Marikana went to operations where work continued to demand that all workers down tools. Back at home, the Gift of the Givers tended to the forgotten people of the ongoing tragedy: the women and children who live in the Wonderkop squatter camp, and have had little or nothing to eat for weeks now. By SIPHO HLONGWANE.

The usual meeting spot for the striking miners at Wonderkop, near Marikana, was unrecognisable on Monday to anyone who hadn’t been there over the weekend. Where the area was usually laid bare for the men to sit around a sound system, a large truck now stood, and tape had been set up to show people how to line up so they could receive hot meals or food parcels. The Gift of the Givers was clearly very welcome and had been allowed to set up a kitchen in the area that had been associated with strife in the last three weeks. 

It was particularly surprising because intervention offers by Lonmin PLC, the government and the police had been rejected by the miners.

The striking miners themselves were at the Eastern Platinum operation of Lonmin to try and force the workers who had reported for duty to down tools, but back near their homes, the women and children of the community were waiting for a midday meal. There weren’t more than 200 of them there in total, and they were easily outnumbered by the number of men who had gathered there daily since the second week of August, but they, too, were suffering thanks to the strike. Last week, some women told me of going for days without food because the only breadwinner in the family was in prison or in hospital.

Most of the arrested miners are now free, but the strike continues, and so there is no source of cash to buy food. Some days ago, the group did a collection and bought supplies, but that didn’t last. The miners have consistently refused any outside help – from their employer, the government or the police – believing the food they might get that way would be poisoned. You don’t need to spend much time talking to the people involved to realise that rank suspicion and distrust is a common feature. 

What helped give Gift of the Givers entry was that they announced from the very beginning that they were friends to nobody, and had no political leanings, says the founder and chairman Dr. Imtiaz Sooliman. 

“When we came in this morning, it was a bit tense because the men were marching and carrying their weapons. After they left, the people gathered here peacefully, waiting for meal time. In three days we have not seen any violence. The people are peaceful,” he told Daily Maverick.

The scale of the humanitarian tragedy meant that the food brought on Saturday wasn’t enough. At midday, another truck appeared with more supplies; some of them blankets and toys, so that the children could be both fed and entertained.

The plan was to provide one meal a day, but that was clearly not enough. A small morning meal is given now, along with another in the afternoon. Imtiaz said that the children were given a nutritious porridge of soya and maize, along with biscuits and juice. Inside the truck where we discreetly conducted the interview, we were surrounded by sacks of all the types of food your mother told you to eat as a child. 

Having had food for three days, the women were ecstatic. 

“Sometimes we had nothing but water for days. We are so happy now,” one said.

Another, wearing a green t-shirt identifying her as a member of the Association of Mineworkers and Construction Union, interjected: “But we still want R12,500. We want it and we will not turn back.”

Meanwhile, the men had set off in the general direction of Karee mine to demand that the operation be shut down, but were headed off by the police. Instead of returning home, they went to Eastern Platinum. The police were hopelessly outnumbered, but things didn’t get out of hand. The miners made their point and then marched on to the next Lonmin operation, and the next.

Where they did not go was the meeting arranged by the Commission for Conciliation, Mediation and Arbitration (CCMA) on Monday afternoon so that a negotiation process between Lonmin and the workers could start. The meeting was called as an aftermath of the peace accord (signed on Thursday by all concerned parties, except for AMCU and the striking workers), but demanded that people report for duty so that it could go ahead. Obviously, it didn’t, because Lonmin reported that only 6.3% of the total workforce reported for duty. And not a few of those who didn’t show up for work were outside the EastPlats operation, demanding that those who did should down tools. The CCMA meeting was eventually cancelled.

The CCMA has rather ludicrously said that if the workers don’t return to work on Monday, as per the peace accord which they didn’t sign, the negotiation process won’t go ahead. The events that took place on the day shouldn’t give the commissioners hope that their conditions for negotiation are going to be met anytime soon. The miners are more than happy to stay out of the negotiations for as long as their demands aren’t met. DM

Read more:

  • Marikana: Gift of the Givers brings food to striking miners in Daily Maverick 

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