Two months had passed after Tholakele “Bhele” Dlunga survived the Marikana Massacre when five plainclothes policemen knocked down the door to his shack. The rock drill operator from Lonmin’s Karee 4 Belt helped organise workers in the lead-up to the 2012 strike and was elected one of the leaders of the strike committee. The police had photos of other leaders and wanted to know their whereabouts. They tortured Bhele for days, first at home, then at the police station.
“I have no idea how Bhele’s life will turn out after this, and if he might some day find justice for his suffering,” Ranjeni Munusamy wondered after Bhele told his story at Daily Maverick’s The Gathering in 2012.
Photo: Tholakele “Bhele” Dlunga was on the cover of iMaverick, 2 November 2012, re-enacting the torture he endured while in police custody. (Photo by Greg Marinovich)
He survived the massacre, but didn’t survive Marikana. According to police, Bhele entered his yard at the Wonderkop Hostel on Tuesday evening shortly before 20:00 and noticed two men standing behind a wall. They opened fire when he asked what they wanted. Wounded, he ran to his front door. He was shot again while trying to get inside.
The killings in Marikana never really ended, they’ve just ebbed and flowed. The blood has continued as platinum continues to come out of the ground and unions, Lonmin, SAPS and the government co-exist uncomfortably. At least five Association of Mineworker and Construction Union (Amcu) leaders have been assassinated in Marikana in recent months and no one can definitively explain why.
“We cannot at this stage confirm that the incident is linked to incidents that were reported in August and September. We will allow the investigation to unfold,” said SAPS North West spokesperson Brigadier Sabata Mokgwabone.
Mineworkers were tense before a mass Amcu meeting on Wednesday night at Marikana’s Wonderkop Stadium, a few hundred metres from where 34 strikers were killed by police on 16 August 2012. In the aftermath of that massacre, miners were even more suspicious of journalists than usual and they had a similar, heightened awareness on Wednesday. “It’s like they’re on schedule, every week,” an Amcu member said of the recent killings.
As the sun set, Amcu President Joseph Mathunjwa defended his union and slammed reports claiming the killings stem from internal divisions. In the years before 2012, the National Union of Mineworkers (NUM) dominated the mining sector, but as leaders failed to deliver significant gains for workers or succumbed to the benefits that come with taking office, the union started to fracture. Divisions reigned. Opponents were killed.
The Marikana Massacre ended NUM’s dominance in the platinum belt and the various worker formations that had emerged joined Amcu, making it the biggest union in the sector. The media reports that Mathunjwa spent so much time on – he even called out journalists by name – suggest Amcu could be following NUM’s descent, becoming defined by an undemocratic leadership that resolves divisions with bullets rather than discussions.
Mathunjwa hates to read the word, as we realised in a press conference on Thursday, but “sources” speaking to Daily Maverick and reported in other publications say divisions are the cause of the violence. A key incident appears to be the dismissal or suspension of Amcu officials by Lonmin in July after one union official allegedly got illegal access to another’s computer and he and his supporters were sidelined. (Mathunjwa denied it has anything to do with the killings.)
It’s been reported that ethnic rivalry between the AmaMpondo and AmaBomvana in Amcu is a source of the violence, which Daily Maverick hasn’t heard and Amcu has emphatically denied, but some disaffected members claimed the killings stemmed from attempts to expose alleged corruption within the union, as well as Mathunjwa allegedly holding an iron grip over its activities.
As yet, sources won’t go on record – the bodies are piling up and a hit list is rumoured to have been sent to assassins – and Mathunjwa was critical of reports tarnishing him and the union without named sources, clear facts or comments from Amcu leaders.
“It is extremely painful and unnerving to be greeted almost weekly by the news of one of our comrades being killed. Almost as painful has been a series of media reports that would have the world believe that this is a result of Amcu internal rivalries and even some reports that would suggest the leadership of Amcu has created an environment for these killings,” he said on Thursday.
Photo: Amcu President Joseph Mathunjwa addresses union members during a mass meeting in Marikana amidst a spree of killings on mineworkers. (By Greg Nicolson)
Mathunjwa denied suggestions that Amcu leaders might somehow be involved in supporting the spate of assassinations. He criticised the lack of police action on the killings and announced that Amcu would offer a R100,000 reward for any information leading to a successful conviction. The union said it has contracted well-known private investigator Paul O’Sullivan to investigate the killings and has requested a meeting with Police Minister Fikile Mbalula. If Amcu leaders were involved, asked Mathunjwa, why would they push for an investigation and offer a reward that could implicate them?
Mathunjwa asked why the police weren’t acting, and questioned their motives. He said three suspects had been arrested in connection with Bhele’s killing but were released the next day. Brigadier Mokgwabone said no one had been arrested.
“There is no internal division in Amcu. In all levels, there is no division. We mustn’t misinterpret discipline and division. There is no organisation that can run without discipline,” said Mathunjwa, denying claims that Amcu members might be killing each other over rivalries or positions. The wait for Amcu’s national elective conference has been notoriously lengthy, but Mathunjwa said the union is first holding branch and regional conferences.
Outside the press briefing on Thursday, the Amcu president said journalists must look not only at Amcu but the historical context of how the government and the ANC’s ally NUM tried to derail the upstart union. He mentioned a “third force”, which sounded like a conspiracy theory, but he had a point.
The Marikana Commission detailed how worried the ANC and NUM were about Amcu getting a foothold in the industry. In fact, it was the police, NUM and government that overplayed Amcu’s reasonably minor role in the 2012 strike. NUM has been trying to claw back members since Amcu took over the platinum sector. President Jacob Zuma, and former State Security Minister David Mahlobo, with the assistance of the State Security Agency, even allegedly funded a union to rival and spy on Amcu.
“The number of killings, the ruthlessness with which they have been carried out … remind us of the days of third force violence meted out against the democratic forces by the apartheid state,” said Mathunjwa. On Wednesday he claimed mining companies were also involved. “Let us not be divided by capitalist agents. The tribalism that supposedly led to the killings are manufactured somewhere. It’s a deliberate effort to reinstate the NUM in Marikana.”
The Chamber of Mines has expressed concern over the killings in Marikana and in other mining communities. It said in a statement: “These tragic events are shocking and their impact on the lives of those left behind, those who now face the daunting task of putting back together the pieces of their own lives following the senseless loss of their loved ones taken from them too soon, will be felt for many years to come.” Spokesperson Charmane Russell said the Chamber doesn’t yet have any insight into the causes of the killings.
Yet the killings continue unabated. Amcu Marikana regional chairperson Jack Khoba said the latest victim, Bhele, was elected health and safety chairperson in Lonmin’s Roland shaft after the massacre. He was religious, “a good comrade”, “a humble man”. He’s just one of many individuals killed recently with friends and a family.
Greg Marinovich, who exposed the police for torturing Bhele and wrote the award-winning Murder at Small Koppie: The Real Story of the Marikana Massacre, said he was appalled to hear of Bhele’s murder.
“In May of 2013, Steve Khululekile was gunned down in a platinum belt tavern as Amcu was trying to establish itself in a union struggle for members. Many other union officials have been murdered in the deadly contest for election as shop stewards,” said Marinovich.
“That same night, neighbours warned Bhele that strangers had been seen lurking near the compound where he rented a shack. He wisely chose to spend the night at a friend’s nearby corrugated zinc room. In the morning, community members found the imprints of unfamiliar shoes that had walked around Bhele’s shack. Word was that it was a failed assassination.”
Photo: Bhele Dlunga, right, Lonmin miner and AMCU official, who believes he escaped a hit squad on Saturday night, talks to neighbours in the shack compound where they all rent rooms. Wonderkop, Marikana, Sunday May 13, 2013. (Photo Greg Marinovich)
“This time, the killers got to him, a brave, moral and beloved leader of the miners has been taken from the community.” DM
Main photo: Tholakele “Bhele” Dlunga was killed on Tuesday evening. (Photo by Greg Marinovich)
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