Maverick Citizen

PHOTO ESSAY

Returning to Marikana: Seeing that koppie where the bodies once lay was tough 

Police action during a mineworkers' strike at Marikana on 16 August 2012 ended in a bloodbath. (Photo: Felix Dlangamandla FOTO24/GAUTENG)

Photographer Felix Dlangamandla witnessed the Marikana shootings on that fateful day in August 2012. He was there in the weeks leading up to the massacre and immediately after. He returned to the scene this week.

I  have been avoiding covering the Marikana story for several years – the last time I was there was in 2015. To see death right before your eyes is not something you can easily forget, and to see the deaths of many in what felt like the blink of an eye. I cannot put into words what it felt like being there on 16 August 2012, or even in the days leading up to that moment.

Over time, I had built personal relationships with the striking miners. As a photographer, I needed them to trust me. I assured them that the photographs and stories we were writing were a true reflection of what was happening. 

On the morning of 16 August, I received a call from Mgcineni “Mambush” Noki (the man in the green blanket) asking me to send two journalists to talk to him because negotiations with the police had stalled and they were unable to reach an agreement.

Less than an hour later, Noki was lying dead in a pool of blood. 

2012: A mineworkers’ strike gathering at Marikana on 16 August. (Photo: Felix Dlangamandla FOTO24)
2012: Mgcineni ‘Mambush’ Noki, one of the leaders of mine workers, at the ‘koppie’ near Nkaneng informal settlement. (Photo: Felix Dlangamandla / FOTO24)
2012: Mineworkers gather at the Nkaneng informal settlement on 15 August in North West. (Photo: Gallo Images / Foto24 / Felix Dlangamandla)
2012: Police open fire on mine workers after a gathering outside Nkaneng informal settlement near the Lonmin mine in Rustenburg, North West. (Photo: Felix Dlangamandla)
2012: Moments before police opened fire on mine workers outside Nkaneng informal settlement near the Lonmin mine in Rustenburg, North West. (Photo: Felix Dlangamandla / FOTO24)

Moments before the shooting, other photographers and I were with the miners. We had wanted to take close-up images of their faces, their expressions, but we decided to pull back. It was at that moment that I heard gunshots. The police began firing teargas and water cannons in our direction. Trying to find cover and choking on the teargas, I kept taking pictures.

I remember every detail of that day, even though it all happened so fast. Within moments, people we had been talking to were lying in pools of blood. Some were wounded, others were dead.

2021: Kholeka Galada relives the memory of what happened on 16 August at a wreath-laying ceremony on 16 August. (Photo: Felix Dlangamandla)
2021: Citizens observe Covid precautions at a wreath-laying ceremony on 16 August. (Photo: Felix Dlangamandla)
2021: Widows of the Marikana massacre at the Grace Point Church in Midrand, Johannesburg, on 16 August. (Photo: Felix Dlangamandla)
2021: The wreath-laying ceremony on 16 August to commemorate the 34 miners who were killed by police during a wage strike nine years ago. (Photo: Felix Dlangamandla)
2021: Widows and some of the survivors of the Marikana massacre arrive at the Grace Point Church in Midrand, Johannesburg, on 16 August. (Photo: Felix Dlangamandla)

Since then, every time there are incidents of police brutality at protests in South Africa, we are reminded of what happened in Marikana. 

I thought I had buried the emotional impact of that day until this Monday, 16 August 2021, when I covered a service to commemorate those who were killed. Returning there and seeing that koppie, I tried hard to block out, in my mind and my heart, the pain and horror of that day. 

Thirty-four wreaths were laid at two locations where the miners’ bodies were found. I paused at the second spot, after other journalists and mourners had walked away, overcome with emotion… overwhelmed by the memories of that terrible day.

I wish it had never happened. I wish these families still had their fathers, husbands and sons. DM

Felix Dlangamandla is Daily Maverick’s Photo Editor. He previously worked at Media 24 publications. 

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All Comments 4

  • There’s no forgiving such organised SAPS thuggery against unarmed citizens – how is SAPS action any different to what the Taliban has done/ is doing in Afganistan. But given the opportunity, I suspect the victims would still vote for the ANC, who gave the order to attack with live ammunition.

  • “I wish it had never happened. I wish these families still had their fathers, husbands and sons.”

    I’m sure the families of the people who were killed by the miners leading up to Marikana are saying the same thing.

  • About 10 people were killed before the police shoot the armed people that were camping on the hill. These armed people did not surrender to the state authority but decided to charge towards the police and the police responded by firing life rounds to the direction of the attack, killing atleast 40 armed ….. police