The smell of blood comes back to me as I think of Marikana
Daily Maverick photo editor Felix Dlangamandla witnessed the massacre of striking mine workers at a dusty North West village. He relives the moment our democracy was stained.
As the country counts down to the 10th anniversary of what has become known as the Marikana massacre, it almost feels like I’m going through a laundry list. My images from 2012 will be sought, a book to which I contributed will find its way back into conversations and a theatre play influenced by the book will form part of the discourse.
But, as a photographer, a storyteller who uses images to communicate with people, that day when police opened fire, killing 34 striking mine workers, has never left me.
I seem to park it somewhere in the back of my mind, but every time Marikana comes up, it feels fresh … the smell of blood, screams of “cease fire” from the police as the dust settled on dozens of bodies riddled with bullets after rounds of ammunition had been pumped into them, are all still clear in my mind.
When I remember the informal settlement of Nkaneng, which loosely translates as “place of defiance”, I think about how I misunderstood at first who the people in that community were.
The Lonmin mine and NUM representatives had said we should expect nothing more than hooligans.
However, after meeting Mgcineni Noki, who you might have known as Mambush or “the man in the green blanket”, and others who were fighting for a living wage, my understanding of the assignment evolved.
Looking at the men on the koppie through my camera made me see so much of myself in them. They, too, were village men and very much like me. They were fighting for the right to take care of their families. They appreciated every attempt by us to rightfully identify them in our images. That stayed with me – they, like all of us, valued being seen for what they were.
By the time 16 August 2012 arrived, I had built strong relationships with some of the men; some would even call, asking me to do a newspaper run on my way to the koppie.
I still have relationships with some of the survivors; they, like me, have never gone for therapy sessions to unpack that trauma. The big difference, I suppose, is that I physically avoid Marikana whenever possible. It revisits me annually through my work but, for them, it never leaves.
Some people have called me about the commemoration to comment on how politicised it has become. It’s starting to look like a festival – people come and party here. With development around the area, it is perhaps only a matter of time before the setting of the gruesome scene is completely erased – because there is nothing whatsoever to mark this horrific stain on South Africa’s democracy.
I tend to agree with this concern. It hurts that Marikana, with all the blood that flowed there, and the breakthrough that miners paid so much for, becomes reduced to political point-scoring every year. DM
This story first appeared in our weekly Daily Maverick 168 newspaper, which is available countrywide for R25.