Six years on Marikana’s ghosts linger

Families of the slain mineworkers have told New Frame that the torments of the massacre refuse to go away.

August 17, 2018 by Dennis Webster and Grace Gomba
31 August 2016. People make their lives in harsh conditions in Nkaneng, adjacent to the Lonmin Platinum Mine and the "Koppie" where 34 miners were massacred by police. (All Photos by James Oatway/ New Frame)

On August 16, 2012, 34 miners on strike were massacred by South African police at the mine owned by the British company, Lonmin, in the Marikana area sparking the largest protests in the post-apartheid era in South Africa. 

In Nqaqhumbe, a village lying against the slopes that stretch to the south of Lusikisiki, the cold has crept into Goodman Jokanisi’s knees. An old injury he sustained while working underground still stiffens during the winter.

Goodman worked for Lonmin from 1989, eventually leading a production team that set up load support structures underground.

He was on the mines when his second eldest son, Semi, was born. Goodman recalls that when he first met Semi, by then a toddler, his son crawled towards him immediately and clung to his legs.

Goodman, soft-spoken and solemn, says that his relationship with Semi grew strong after his son joined him at Lonmin in North West in 2005.

The six years since Semi was shot down by police on 13 August 2012, however, have been the most difficult in Goodman’s long employment on the mines. He is wearing a Lonmin jacket that boasts “6 million fatality-free shifts”.

The ghosts of Marikana have settled at the Jokanisi homestead, and others in the rural reaches of Eastern Cape, the heartland of the R115 billion platinum industry’s labour reserve.

Families of the slain mineworkers have told New Frame that the torments of the massacre refuse to go away. They have been devastated by ongoing trauma, including the suicides of three people among the families.

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10 August 2018: Goodman Jokanisi. His son Semi was killed during the massacre and his grandson Ayabonga, 15, later committed suicide. 

Recently retired, and sitting in a bright blue room in an extension to the family home that Semi built, Goodman recalls the confusion of no longer finding his son on the underground levels where they often met during shift breaks.

Goodman and Semi’s mother, Joyce Jokanisi, have faced the double anguish of losing their son and grandson. In a foggy voice, Joyce describes the passing of the eldest among Semi’s five children, Ayabonga, 15, in 2015.

Joyce says that after Semi’s death, Ayabonga could not bear the mention of Marikana.

Lonmin was paying for the teenager to attend a boarding school in Kokstad, KwaZulu-Natal.  Joyce, however, claims that the matron often told Ayabonga that ‘he stinks’, and reminded him regularly that his family could not afford the school unassisted and that he had Lonmin’s goodwill to thank for his attendance.

Before his death, according to Joyce, Ayabonga grew dispirited by life at the boarding school. She claims that he and his family made numerous requests to Lonmin that he be transferred to another school.

Eventually, Ayabonga purchased rat poison, which he ate before slipping out of school and hanging himself.

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11 August 2018: Joyce Jokanisi applies a mixture of cow dung and water to her floor.  Joyce’s son Semi was killed in the massacre. Her grandson Ayabonga, 15, later committed suicide.

Lonmin’s head of communications, Wendy Tlou, told New Frame that while the company was aware of Ayabonga’s difficulties, and would have been willing to relocate him, the Jokanisis never completed the “relevant form” to have him transferred.

Ayabonga’s four younger siblings, who had been at the same boarding school with him, have since been moved to a different school.

Joyce’s aged features belie a relentless energy and labour. It was with the same energy that she began sweeping the house in the dead of night on 13 August 2012. The family had not yet received news of Semi’s death, but Joyce could sense it.

An investigation carried out by the Independent Police Investigative Directorate later found that earlier in the day, former North West deputy police commissioner, General William Mpembe, led an unprovoked attack on a column of striking mineworkers returning to the koppie that served as their base.

After the dust and gunfire settled, two police officers and three mineworkers were dead. Semi was among them.

Five police officers from the day, including Mpembe, made their first appearance in the North West High Court on 18 June on charges of murder and attempted murder.

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11 August 2018: Masukude Luzaza (centre) and Goodman Jokanisi (right) during a thanksgiving ceremony at his home. 

The Jokanisis say they are ready to forgive those responsible for Semi’s death. His brothers, Nhlanhla and Mandisi Jokanisi, however, don’t know who to forgive. Clearly exasperated, they say that reconciliation remains impossible until somebody takes responsibility for the crime.

Life goes on at the Jokanisi homestead, albeit in the shadow of Semi and Ayabonga’s deaths.

Joyce cleans the home, and applies cow dung and water to the floor – the time-worn practice of  ukusinda – while preparations are made outside for a ceremony to give thanks for the family’s new car and Goodman’s retirement. Family and neighbours spend the day in high spirits, cooking, eating and drinking only a few steps from Semi’s grave in the garden.

Preparations for a ceremony of a different kind are under way in Luqhoqhweni, a village across the valley.

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Yongama Ngunuza, 15, has recently been initiated. His father Thabiso was killed in the massacre. His mother was given a job as a cleaner on the mine and now he lives alone in the family home near Lusikisiki.

Yongama Ngunuza, now as old as Ayabonga Jokanisi was when he died, is preparing for his final passage to manhood. For the past month, he has been dressed in impahla zamakrwala, an outfit worn by young men after returning from initiation.

Steamed bread and milky tea are shared among a room of young men, now Yongama’s peers. He takes sips of aromatic umqombothi in between undoing the buttons on his outfit as he sheds his adolescence.

Yongama’s mother, Ntombizolile Mosebetsane, has come home for the special occasion, but will begin the long journey back to the mines in a few hours, leaving Yongama, 15, alone and in charge of the homestead.

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12 August 2018: Yongama drinks umqombothi during the ceremony to conclude his initiation.

Ntombizolile now lives in Marikana, where she moved to take up the general cleaning job Lonmin offered her after her husband, Thabiso Mosebetsane, was shot twice in the head after being hounded onto the “killing koppie”, where the police killed 17 mineworkers.

Nomkitha Sompeta is also home from the mines for a few days. Like Ntombizolile, Nomkitha took up work as a general cleaner for Lonmin after her brother, Mzukisi, was killed at Marikana.

A light drizzle has not interrupted the celebratory mood at the Sompeta homestead. The ribbon on a newly built home – the third built for the families of the slain mineworkers by the Association of Mineworkers and Construction Union (Amcu) – is freshly cut.

But a latent grief gnaws at the festivities. Amcu officially opened the home on 9 August, the same day on which the strike started six years ago, and ended in Mzukisi Sompeta’s death.

“The pain is the same now as it was then,” says Nomkitha.

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12 August 2018: Nomkitha Sompeta’s brother Msukisi was killed in the massacre. Lonmin gave Nomkitha a job as a cleaner on the mine. “This house will always be a sad house. In it I will always remember him and what happened to him.” she said.

While the house represents hope in the midst of a tide of broken promises by government to compensate the loss of her brother, Nomkitha says it will also be a constant reminder of the family’s loss.

Mzukisi’s brick grave is visible through the unused bedroom windows. He has been buried in a corner of the garden, near his father, who died only a few months after Mzukisi was shot down at Marikana. The old man collapsed and died after watching a news broadcast of the massacre.

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09 August 2018: The grave of Msukisi Sompeta, at his home in the village of KwaDick near Lusikisiki. Sompeta was killed in the Marikana Massacre in 2012.

In Vanderbijlpark, 200km south of Marikana, the massacre’s long shadow has taken root only a stone’s throw away from Sharpeville, the site of another state-sanctioned slaughter.

Sitting in her new home – also built by Amcu – Mathabang Ntsenyeho says that she wants “to bury the pain”. She whispers, almost under her breath, however, that it may never vanish.

August is a difficult month. The memory of her husband, Andries, and “what was done to him”, are always foremost in her mind.

A Nelson Mandela quote appears on the television between the soapies playing in the background: “Resentment is like drinking poison and hoping it will kill your enemies.”

In the Ntsenyehos’ living room, Mandela’s words ring hollow.

Andries’ son Thabang was one of the family members who took up the jobs offered by Lonmin after their loved ones had been killed at Marikana.

Thabang told New Frame, however, that he never chose to “inherit another man’s life”. Wiry and reserved in his mother’s front yard, Thabang recounts how the massacre imposed a job on him that he had never imagined.

Five years after Andries Ntsenyeho led demands for Lonmin to pay a living wage, Thabang, downcast by a life on the mines,  a life he never chose, left the job in which he had succeeded his father.

Thabang has been unemployed since. In a macabre turn, he told New Frame he will be using the experience he gained at Lonmin to try and find work in the gold fields.

“I have a plan,” says Thabang, “Lonmin is not as important for me. I want to do it my way.”

(Article Courtesy: New Frame)