South Africa

Reporter’s Marikana Notebook: Police intimidation 1, abandoned community 0

By Sipho Hlongwane 17 September 2012

Community members in Marikana were grimly preparing for the next police attack on Sunday morning, following Saturday morning’s raid. Almost nobody, including women and children, had been spared. The despair has at last set in. By SIPHO HLONGWANE.

The ground in the town of Marikana had almost dried up by Sunday morning from a storm the night before, but the finer mud around the Nkaneng shantytown was still very slippery and wet, making approach in our unsuitable car almost impossible. Things were slightly worse for the people who had to walk the five kilometres to town, but the rain was a help to one group of men on the outskirts of the shacks. They were right in the middle of one of the many narrow roads, digging what looked like two narrow graves lying side by side.

They were very hesitant when I approached, but said when asked that the usual meeting held by the striking miners was not going to happen on Sunday – not after the raid on Saturday morning. The police had descended into the settlement, some firing teargas and rubber bullets into the shacks. The official word was that they were looking for weapons, but as an intimidation tactic, the raid certainly was effective. Very few people were willing to talk about anything all day. 

I eventually gave up and walked away.

One man followed me. He said his name was Daluxolo, and he wanted to talk.

“My child is sick. She breathed in the teargas yesterday. The police were firing teargas and rubber bullets just anywhere. It didn’t matter that there were women and children in the shacks. Many children got the gas,” he said.

He lived with his wife and three children in a nearby shack, and the one that was still affected by the teargas was just three months old, he said.

“What did our children do?”

Another raid was expected on Saturday night, but the heavy rain drove the police’s armoured trucks away, another man who approached us said. Residents were now waiting for “something” to happen again, and not sure what to do to stop it. 

“Who are we going to call to come help us? The police are here. The soldiers are here. Zuma sent them. The ANC has shown us its other side. I don’t know what we’re going to do,” the second man said.

Both men said that it was common knowledge in Nkaneng that this new operation was authorised by the national government.

After a meeting of cabinet ministers in the security cluster on Friday, justice and constitutional development minister Jeff Radebe said that government would clamp down on illegal gatherings and the carrying of dangerous weapons.

“Government recognises that if the current situation continues unabated it will make it even harder to overcome our challenges of slow economic growth, high unemployment, poverty and inequality. Government will not tolerate these acts any further. Government has put measures in place to ensure that the current situation is brought under control,” he said. Immediately afterwards, a heavy police formation moved into the area, supported by 1,000 South African National Defence Force (SANDF) soldiers from the army, air force and military health services.

On Sunday morning, a number of armoured trucks still loitered about Marikana – within easy reach of the nearby troublesome settlement of Nkaneng.

Some people tried to march peacefully to the Rustenburg police station to protest what they saw as intimidation. They were stopped.

“The police have blocked us. They are dispersing us. Now we are telling our people to go back to where we came from,” Gaddhafi Mdoda said to the press. He was part of that march. 

He said that nobody carried weapons, but “they are telling us that they are giving a few minutes to disperse, so that’s a big threat”. The several-hundred people dispersed quickly.

The Bleskop stadium, where Anglo Platinum workers gathered to strike on Thursday, was also deserted.

A statement released by the presidency later on Sunday said that the action by law enforcement agents was aimed at ending violence and intimidation, not curtailing civil liberties.

“Government action in Marikana is directed at ensuring that citizens exercise their rights peacefully and within the ambit of the law, as would be required in any democratic country in the world,” the presidency said. “Government cannot allow a situation where people march in the streets carrying dangerous weapons.”

The raid, on Nkaneng and the hostels at Lonmin’s Karee mine, yielded machetes, spears, knobkieries and sticks. The staggeringly heavy-handed and brutal response by the police mirrors that of 16 August, when officers drove several thousand men off the koppie they were sitting on in a disarm-and-disperse mission that now seems, from some eyewitness accounts, also to have been a calculated kill mission. On that day, 34 people lost their lives and a further 78 were injured. This was three days after some men had been arrested for the death of 10 people.

Since I began visiting the area in the middle of August, I have always got the sense that the people were angry and wary of the police – how could they not be, after 112 of their comrades were shot? – but that they did think there was a line that wouldn’t be crossed again. Cabinet ministers and President Jacob Zuma visited the striking miners, offering kind and conciliatory words. On previous occasions the police kept their distance, creating the impression that the settlement and its occupants were off limits. Saturday proved that they are fair game too.

It wasn’t till I had driven away that I finally figured out what the men were doing, digging what had looked like two small graves in the road. I had asked the whole group what they were up to, and none answered that question. I wasn’t even allowed to take a photo. It couldn’t have been graves, since the holes were about knee-deep. And they were in a road. The dirt that had been unearthed was piled on the side that was outside the settlement. They were digging trenches to stop the armoured trucks from being able to drive right into the settlements. It was a paltry and probably futile attempt to protect their families against a raid they believe will surely come again. DM

Photo: A man (L) holds a stone while running across the road as police approach Nkaneng, September 15, 2012. South African police on Saturday fired tear gas and rubber bullets to disperse miners rallying in Marikana after raids on their hostels to seize arms, witnesses said. REUTERS/Siphiwe Sibeko


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