South Africa

South Africa

Heartfelt, hard, painful songs of Marikana

Heartfelt, hard, painful songs of Marikana

In the blazing North West summer sun Marikana workers sing about the abuse they suffer, about their dissatisfaction and their demands; they sing of their terrible experience and the massacre that changed everything. By THAPELO LEKGOWA.

The lyrics of their songs are a venting of anger; anger at Lonmin, Jacob Zuma, the general secretary of the National Union of Mineworkers (NUM), Frans Baleni, and the union’s president, Senzeni Zokwana. The words of praise to found in the songs are for Julius Malema, for understanding and standing with them. The hope of those who sing them, is that their heartfelt words will go from their mouths to God’s ear. Or at least drop into an ear of someone who dares to listen, and care.

Safasaphela I sizwe e si mnyana ngexa ya mapolisa…

Juju Malema u ya sizela ngexayokubulawa

(Black people are being extinguished because of the police…

Juju Malema is defending us because of police killing us)  

Marikana mine strike leader and drill operator Sobopha Sibonile explains the use of song in African life: “We use songs to express our emotions, intentions and requests. In my culture, a song can be used to warn you or to invite you closer. We use songs to advise newlyweds. We use songs for everything in peace and in war. I can say a black person’s life is a song.”

The Marikana Massacre has been written in blood for the whole world to see. Around the koppie and in the veld the lifeforce of workers was shed in a dreadful slaughter and the full meaning of it is yet to be revealed. But there is another message coming from Marikana and this message is heard in the songs from the koppie and beyond.

The singing voices have propelled, shaped and expressed the shifting struggle of the Marikana community. Before Zuma recycled the virile struggle song, Khaulethe umshini wam (Bring me my machine gun), as his personal theme song in his struggle to overcome his adversary, Thabo Mbeki, the struggle against Apartheid was mobilised, mourned and celebrated in song.

A rich history of communal revolutionary and protest music was re-directed into a personal power-play. An almost unique form of militant dance, the toyi-toyi, recast the humble “struggle song” as an art form and cultural weapon of potent symbolism and practical politics. While Zuma captivated his followers with flowing renditions of his trademark song before the dead of 16 August had been buried, in the shadows of brutal exploitation by mining bosses and neglect by politicians, the people of Marikana also gave voice to their feelings in song. The songs they sang were a direct rejoinder to the political elites and the entire political economy. Zuma’s machine gun was no longer a symbol of liberation. It was an eerie echo of a movement once glorious, now shamed; a movement once of the people, now at war with them. It was a song of witch-hunts and the repression of dissenting views.

Now, it is from Marikana that we hear new songs of struggle, like Sisebenza emigodini sisebenza kanzima (We work underground, we work hard). Miner Jackson Mjiki says the songs are not about memory, but serve as calls to action against injustice today. I will never want any of my children to work in the mines,” Jackson said as he explained the conditions under which miners work.

In the immediate aftermath of the massacre, old standards like Senzenina? (What have we done?), from the anti-Apartheid struggle, were sung with a new and different poignancy. In the face of the shocking brutality came the question: “What have we done?”

But the mood changed once the dead had been buried and their demands were unmet.

Kebomang bareng batshaba Zokwana, rona raya (Who are those who say they fear Zokwana? We are going.) This song was sung when a large group marched to the management office for the first time after the massacre. There was no permission granted for the march, but the group marched to this song, forcing the police to escort them to management offices. “It is easier to manage feelings and also control a march with a song. When we marched to management offices we had no idea of what might break out as emotions were very high. But we trusted in song; that through the songs we will be able to control the feeling and emotions of our fellow workers,” said Ntate Lebenya, a strike marshall.

It is easy for the “solidarity-tourists” to overlook the fact that men, women and children of Marikana are going hungry. It is far too easy to ignore the gaping holes left not only in the bodies of the dead, but also in the psyche of an entire community. Prayers and peaceful entreaties to those in authority have gone unheard. Well-wishing clergy and opportunist politicians have brought no answers or any meaningful help.

There are men who still sit on the top the koppie and re-live the day. One man, who never revealed his name, repeatedly said: “He laid here, right here.” The man said nothing else.

And so, as the long struggle and bitter reality unfolds, the songs of Marikana have changed. The tempo, the rhythm, the words and their meaning are urgent, direct and angry. A firm and grim determination now animates the songs as they give expression to a new phase of struggle. No more pleading. No more prayers. These songs that are being sung and ululated are the low rumblings of deep anger which will be heard and whose force will yet be felt. They will not be sung from platforms or in the choreographed shows of the politically connected. They will be hummed in shacks, swayed to on street corners and the message will carry over the sounds of teargas, rubber bullets and Nyalas.

Marikana sings; who dares to answer? Which voices will join the chorus in the call for justice? DM

Photo: September 5, 2012: Striking Marikana Lonmin miners march to deliever their demands to Lonmin management.  They hold up the image of Mambush, one of the strike leaders killed by police. Marikana, North West Province, South Africa. Photo: Greg Marinovich.


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