No country for widows

The astonishing lengths to which the South African state went to demean and diminish Marikana miners, dead and living, and their loved ones.

Massacres happen fast and slow. Ask the survivors and their survivors. Nearly three years later, Jacob Zuma finally shared his version of the Marikana Commission of Inquiry, also known as the Farlam Commission for its chairperson, which has, after a fashion, investigated the August 16, 20102 massacre of striking mineworkers at the Lonmin platinum mine in the North West. There were little to no surprises in Zuma’s presentation, which emphasized those points that were meant to absolve the President and his friends.

The only surprise, if it was a surprise at all, was the lengths to which the State went to demean and diminish the miners, dead and living, and their loved ones. The nation was given five hours’ notice, and then the President went on. The widows weren’t given prior notice nor were the surviving mineworkers nor their attorneys or supporters. They found out the about the event as they returned from work, ran about looking for a tv, and finally found a laptop, in a Longmin board room, only to have the feed not function. Some say it was load shedding.

But why were the widows treated in this way? Surely it couldn’t have been too difficult to have given them prior notice? More to the point, surely they should have been sitting in the gallery, right there. Surely South Africa has the wherewithal to bring a few grieving women from the North West to hear the President deliver his understanding of the meaning of their husbands’ deaths?

Betty Gadlela, widow of Sitelega Meric Gadlela, now works as a miner to support her family, commented, “Our husbands died like dogs for R12 500 which is nothing considering the amount of work that is done in the mines. Our eyes are still filled with tears and we still mourn the deaths of our husbands. Now that I also work in the mine, I see why our husbands went on strike.”

Noluvuyo Noki, widow of strike leader Mgcineni Noki, `the man in the green blanket’, added, “The police who killed my husband are given the opportunity to work and take care of their children. What about my daughter? What about the children of the other miners who were orphaned because of that shooting?”

From the day of the killing, and actually before, the women of Marikana, incandescent with rage, pushed, organized, protested, organized, refused to stay in the dark. Some sat for two years at the Farlam Commission hearings. As one widow explained, she left her children for two years, hoping for a definitive answer of what happened to their father. They sat through almost three years now of empty commemorations without any discussion of compensation. The President also “forgot” to mention compensation in his rendering of events.

And now?

Ntombizolile Mosebetsane, widow of Thabiso Mosebetsane, sighs, “What do you want me to say? I have no words. There are no words… The report says nothing about who killed my husband or why the police believed that any of them should have died. Would it be too much to ask Zuma to come to us personally, as the president of this country, to address us? Because this cannot be the final chapter of our people’s lives.”

And now the widows go back to court, and for them, the struggle, and the massacre, continue. This cannot be the final chapter of our people’s lives.

Further Reading

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Heeding the call

At the 31st New York African Film Festival, young filmmakers set the stage with adventurous and varied experiments in African cinema.