Marikana massacre: South Africa may be grappling with whose pain is more worthy of nationwide recognition

Marikana massacre: South Africa may be grappling with whose pain is more worthy of nationwide recognition
Marikana mine workers affiliated to Amcu lay a wreath at the Koppie in commemoration of the Marikana massacre on 16 August 2020. (Photo: Gallo Images / Daily Sun / Morapedi Mashashe)

Notably, the commemorations of instances where black, poor people are killed en masse are usually only recognised by other black people and, in a country as diverse as South Africa, we have to ask why.

First published in the Daily Maverick 168 weekly newspaper.

On 16 August 2021, it will be nine years since the 34 mine workers of Marikana who embarked on a three-week strike were killed by the South African Police Service. On 13 August, three mine workers were killed. The miners were striking for a living wage of a mere R12,500, something that many of us could not imagine living on.

Their names are: Sitelega Meric Gadlela, Thembinkosi Gwelani, Patrick Akhona Jijase, Semi Jokanisi, John Kutlwano Legingoane, Jackson Lehupa, Janeveke Raphael Liau, Mafolisi Mabiya, Julius Tokoti Mangcotywa, Thembelakhe Mati, Anele Mdizeni, Bongani Mdze, Makhosandile Mkhonjwa, Telang Mohai, Khanare Elias Monesa, Thabiso Mosebetsane, Thobile Mpumza, Babalo Mtshazi, Michael Ngweyi, Ntandazo Nokhamba, Mgcineni “Mambush” Noki, Bongani Nqongophele, Mongezeleli Ntenetya, Andries Ntsenyeho, Molefi Osiel Ntsoele, Henry Mvuyisi Pato, Motisaoitsile Van Wyk Sagalala, Fezile David Saphendu, Pumzile Sokanyile, Mzukisi Sompeta, Thabiso Johannes Thelejane, Mphangeli Tukuza, Nkosiyabo Xalabile, Cebisile Yawa, Bonginkosi Yona, Thobisile Zibambele.

It is important to know and say their names because all these men were loved and had loved ones with whom they shared dreams and aspirations, which were tragically curtailed.

Last year, I covered the eighth-anniversary commemorations hosted by the Socio-Economic Rights Institute, where the children of the slain miners spoke, expressing a sadness and anger still fresh from the loss of their fathers.

These children displayed a sense of hopelessness for their future that no child should have to endure.

Their futures looked uncertain, with some saying they were considering dropping out of school to work and look after their families.

The daughter of Jackson Lehupa said: “How are we going to live without a father, six siblings without a father? I even considered leaving school and finding a job to help my mother.”

It is important to note that children leaving school without skills or even matric is exactly what continues to perpetuate a society that places unequal pressures on the poor and an inequitable distribution of the country’s wealth, trapping people in a cycle of poverty. While it is easy to simply state that they must just go to school, when your family has a parent and breadwinner taken away from you your immediate need is to be able to fill those roles.

Children are forced to grow up sooner than they would have to under normal circumstances, marking a loss of innocence and stolen childhood.

These children were robbed of their ability to dream bigger for themselves and their families. They also are left with the trauma of knowing that their parents were killed by an unaccountable state.

Has anybody asked what becomes of the generation of children growing up without their fathers and how they are likely to integrate into society? Who will they become and what becomes of their loss and anger? Where will all of this be channelled to and whose responsibility is it to ensure that it is recognised and not simply placated?

Notably, these sorts of commemorations of instances where black, poor people are killed en masse are usually only recognised by other black people, and in a country as diverse as South Africa we have to ask why. Surely any killing of our people is worth a national outcry and collective condemnation and commitment to it never happening again? These events often show the deep fissures in our society that we often try to mask behind the fallacy of unity. It’s not enough to feel “bad” or “guilty” in silence because who knows of that and what tangible good does it do?

Of what use are commemorations by a few civil society organisations and what is the ongoing work and engagement that needs to happen to ensure that there aren’t members of society who feel unmoved when fellow citizens are killed without consequence. We are all responsible for each other and as such any member of our society who dies under unjust circumstances cannot be ignored.

Could it be that in SA we are still having to deal with the issue of whose pain is more worthy of nationwide recognition? After all, it is mostly black people who we see being brutalised by poverty and killed by the state. Is it because we have a history of this that we have developed a desensitisation, dare I say, expectation that this is the norm?

How does it happen that nine years and a commission of inquiry later there is still no accountability?

I think the bigger issue that the Marikana massacre brings into sharp focus is that the poor and working class in South Africa are simply seen as a means to an end and, as a result, are dehumanised, making them dispensable and easily replaced.

My hope this year is that the marking of the ninth anniversary of the Marikana massacre is a nationwide one. DM168

Zukiswa Pikoli is a journalist at Maverick Citizen.

This story first appeared in our weekly Daily Maverick 168 newspaper which is available for R25 at Pick n Pay, Exclusive Books and airport bookstores. For your nearest stockist, please click here.


Comments - Please in order to comment.

  • Caroline de Braganza says:

    The fact that no-one has commented on this piece supports your view that many South African are desensitized. Many of my fellow whites are quick to respond when it’s a political or corruption issue; but the silence is deafening on issues which mainly affect the poor – such as the tragedy of Marikana. Developing empathy and compassion for our fellow citizens would help redress the balance. I will be marking the anniversary on Monday 16 August and pray others will too.

  • Johannes Nel says:

    What about the names of those who were brutally butchered by these mineworkers prioer to this incident. Do their lives not matter Zukiswa?
    And what about their loved ones? Their children? Do they not matter Zukiswa?
    You forgot to mention that these mineworkers were attacking the police and would have slaughtered them if they were not stopped. Look at the videos. This is gutter journalism. Shame on you.

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