The wives and children of the miners murdered in 2012 during a strike at Marikana’s Lonmin mine wait for justice that never comes while languishing in a town with few opportunities.
By: Niren Tolsi
Photographer: Paul Botes
13 Aug 2021
Nokuthula Zibambele wears her emotions in her eyes more than anyone else I know.
In December 2012, when we met for the first time at her home in Lusikisiki, she was still in the dark clothes of mourning. Her eyes mirrored that colour. They were shell shocked. But then, so many of the widows of the 44 men killed at Marikana during a wildcat strike in August 2012 carried that look for so long.
A few months later she showed us a picture on her phone and said: “Here is my husband.” Thobisile Zibambele’s limp body was being certified dead by a cop at the cattle kraal near the Nkaneng shack settlement. Officers there mowed down 17 striking miners who had been channelled towards a police line on 16 August 2012. The police officer was holding Zibambele up at the arm, his body hanging in a perfect curve to about the waist. Dead men surrounded him. All that showed in Nokuthula’s eyes.
Silently staring at her daughter Sandisa’s coffin in 2016 while mourners’ prayers escalated to the swollen clouds above, there was a mother’s gnawing question in her eyes. It asked what she could have done differently to prevent her 24-year-old child’s suicide.
Nokuthula Zibambele’s eyes are almond shaped. They are alive with kindness and expression. Her eyes have, over the past nine years, also found moments when they have been crinkled at the edges from the pressure of a smile. They have been touched by laughter, happiness, fatigue at cleaning toilets and offices at the mines, worry over her children’s future, pride at their achievements and bemusement at my sometimes stupid questions. But at the high court in Mahikeng on 29 March 2021, the haunted look I remembered from our first meeting returned.
North West deputy judge president Ronald Hendricks had just acquitted former deputy provincial police commissioner William Mpembe and three others of charges including defeating the ends of justice, contravening the Commissions’ Act by perjuring themselves and contravening the Independent Police Investigative Directorate (Ipid) Act for failing to report Modisaotsile van Wyk Segalala’s death in police custody.
“I was not happy about that judgment in the Segalala case,” Zibambele said recently. “I still felt that the police were hiding the truth from us and from the courts. I felt that they got away again.”
Segalala, 60, had been shot in the chest at “scene two” or the “killing koppie” on 16 August 2012. The killing there started about 15 minutes after the police’s deadly shooting at the cattle kraal, or “scene one”. There were no media cameras at scene two.
Forensic evidence and testimony at the Farlam Commission of Inquiry confirmed that police had gone on a hunting expedition of miners who were hiding among the rocks, crevices and bushes at scene two.
Seventeen men were shot dead there, execution style. Four miners were shot in the head or neck, 11 in the back. One hundred and twelve others bore the brunt of the police bullets. Survivors talked of police hunting down and shooting men. Others told of how police had shot at them while they surrendered.
Police originally told the commission that Segalala died in hospital. But new photographic evidence discovered by Ipid after the commission had completed its work confirmed that instead of receiving medical attention, an injured Segalala had been dumped on the back of a police truck with other arrested miners to be processed on the afternoon of 16 August. By the time the truck reached the processing point on Lonmin property, Segalala was dead.
Sitting with Zibambele and her daughter Nonkanyiso recently, I recount the judgment day earlier this year when she and several other widows had gathered in court in support of Segalala’s son, Hendrik. I tell her the look she had in her eyes as their lawyer, Nomzamo Zondo, briefed the families about the judgment, made my own eyes well up.
Zibambele takes a deep breath and exhales: “That judgment broke me,” she says. “Segalala died tied up. He died a painful death and still the police won’t tell us why he had to die.
“Justice was not served the way it happened to Segalala. He was treated like a criminal before he died. We have been waiting for justice since November 2012 [when she started attending the Farlam Commission]. From then, until now, I have been listening to the judges and the lawyers: 2012, 2013, 2014 … 2017, 2018, 2019, 2020 and this year … in all the different cases we are involved in. But still, there is no justice. It still feels like the judges never feel the pain that we feel.”
To lift the mood, I make a joke about Zibambele having spent so much time in court over the past nine years that she could consider a new career as a lawyer. This does little to salve the wound of injustice. But her reality has sharpened her sense of the law.
In 2013 she told us that police testimony at the Farlam Commission was bent on “hiding the truth. You can see during cross examination [of police witnesses] that just as the truth is coming out, they don’t answer the questions directly,” she said.
Justice nowhere in sight
Nothing much has changed for her. Zibambele says that at the commission she learned how and where her husband died, but not at whose hands or why, a profound gap.
Justice for the families of Marikana – whether their loved ones were striking miners, Lonmin security staff like Hassan Fundi, non-striking miners like Julius Langa or police officers like Tsietsi Monene – has been non-existent. In many of the murder trials, postponements have been followed by more postponements.
This year, the most active case has been the murder trial involving Mpembe, retired air-wing commander Colonel Salmon Vermaak and five other cops. This is for the death of three striking miners and two police officers under Mpembe’s command during a skirmish on 13 August 2012, plus the attempted murder of five other striking miners. Police, unprovoked, triggered the skirmish.
The matter has already been heard for six weeks in 2021, but is set to continue for at least another two years, according to Zondo, who is the executive director at the Socio-Economic Rights Institute.
The matters involving the massacre on 16 August and the deaths at scene one and two have yet to be set down for adjudication. The National Prosecuting Authority has assigned three very capable but overworked prosecutors to handle all the cases involving police officers who killed people at Lonmin. These lawyers have other cases to handle in addition to the Marikana ones.
Meanwhile a panel of experts established on the recommendation of the Farlam Commission to investigate and suggest measures to reform the police has produced a report, which is yet to be acted on. Submitted to the police minister in May 2018, it gathers dust as public order policing continues to fail South Africans.
This inertia is directly responsible for police killing Mthokozisi Ntumba, a passerby, during student protests outside the University of the Witwatersrand in Johannesburg earlier this year. The reform and planning the report demanded has been ignored to the detriment of businesses, shops, logistic hubs and other key infrastructure destroyed during the wave of violence and looting that accompanied July’s insurrection in KwaZulu-Natal and Johannesburg. Police reportedly did not have enough rubber bullets, public order expertise or manpower to respond to the destruction. There have been claims that some rogue elements within the police aligned to former president Jacob Zuma did not have the will to do so, either.
Government failed the dead of Marikana in 2012. It has failed South Africans in the intervening years. So, now, even the ghosts are rising up.
The restless dead
Very little gets under the skin of Hendrik Segalala. He has taken life’s setbacks over the past nine years – many violent and traumatic – in his laidback, nonchalant stride. Segalala is philosophical in a way that I have sometimes found hard to fathom. Yet even he is showing signs of strain recently.
We are standing outside a fast food joint in Mahikeng on the day Hendricks acquitted the police for covering up the death of his father. Segalala is drawing hard on a cigarette. I wish I were too. His voice hardens in a way I have never heard before. “My father has been coming to me in my dreams again,” he says. “At first it was every few months but now it’s three or four times a month. He just stands there, looking at me from afar. He has not settled. His spirit is still out there somewhere in Marikana and I don’t know what to do.”
Segalala is frustrated. His father would come to him in the years after the massacre and communicate, saying their family home in Setlagole village in the North West needed repairs, or that his brother’s friends were taking advantage of him after a financial windfall. Now he is silent. He just stares.
Segalala has consulted izangoma (diviners) and believes the behaviour of his father’s ghost is because the family has not performed the series of rituals that his mixed Bechuana and Xhosa heritage demands to allow his soul to rest.
He says: “Every year at the anniversary of the massacre I lay flowers down for my father at Marikana. But it is not where he died. First we were told he died in hospital. Now I know he died in a police truck, but I don’t have enough answers to give him peace.” Segalala’s is an eldest son’s torment.
We meet him again during the Women’s Day long weekend at the Middlekraal Hostel on what used to be Lonmin property. Lonmin, the multinational company that owned the platinum mining operation at Marikana during the 2012 strike, has since sold it to Sibanye-Stillwater.
On the face of it not much has changed in the intervening years. Loud maskandi pumps from speakers and men congregate on a Sunday to drink, many heavily. This is the way of the mining towns.
But residents at the hostel, which houses both men and women, complain that there has not been running water for weeks. The conditions generally have deteriorated. This is despite the company announcing recently that its overall group profits increased by more than 162% year on year for the first half of the year ending 30 June.
Segalala sits outside his two-room hostel unit. He is smoking again. His habit remains as consistent as his hope. “I was speaking with Nomzamo recently. Hopefully she can help me track down the number plate of the truck in which my father died. Maybe I can start with a cleansing ritual there,” he says.
Young and discouraged
Zameka Nungu has always ensured that her daughter, Nowili, had her head on straight. Two years after the Marikana massacre, Nowili Nungu walked around Nkaneng with us on a Sunday morning. Drunken men slurred lecherously from tavern yards at the then 16-year-old.
We discussed how there were so few jobs at Marikana for women, that so many of them were forced into sex work to make a living in the mining town. Stepping around rubbish and over wires for informal electricity connections, Nungu talked about wanting to get out. Visiting her mother from boarding school in Rustenburg, she talked about how she intended to use the free education offered by Lonmin to avoid the pitfalls of teenage pregnancy and unemployment so as to one day take care of her single-parent family. She wanted to give back to her mother for all her sacrifices after police killed her father, Jackson Lehupa, a rock-drill operator at K3 Shaft, on 16 August.
Seven years later very little has changed. The shack settlements surrounding the mines still do not have piped running water and waste removal. Electricity connections are mainly informal. Men still treat women like chattel.
“We get disrespected by men, often by old men, because they all know that there is no man in this house. What kind of society is this that make old men want to sleep with young women?” asks Nungu, 24. She is currently staying in a two-room hostel unit at Karee Shaft with her mother and female cousins. When her young brothers come home from boarding school there are six to the unit.
Behind her oversized hipster glasses, Nungu is smart and focused. She graduated in 2021 with a diploma in public relations after studying labour and administration. She had initially sought a job in that field, sending out CVs and applications to companies in Marikana and more widely – but to no avail.
“People want experience, and I don’t have any. There are also fewer jobs because of Covid and companies seem to be retrenching, not hiring,” she says.
So she set her sights much lower. “I was sitting at home jobless for so long that I even started sending my CV to the Boxer [and to] the Chicken Licken to try and get a job as a cashier. Nothing. So at the moment my cousin and I are selling plates [of food] to the miners at Karee Shaft.” The cousins wake up at 5am to cook before taking the gas stove, pots of food, tables and chairs down to the shaft. On a good day, they make about R150 profit.
“It’s really discouraging for me as a young person in this country. So many people are unemployed and every time I apply for a job and I don’t get a response, I still cry. I cry because I am 24 and I still have to ask my mother for money to buy toiletries. I am 24 and all my dreams have vanished,” she says, echoing the feelings of an entire generation of young, unemployed South Africans.
Nungu talks about the scammers who have wrested money, sometimes thousands, from young people desperate for employment. She says this is part of a crisis of morality in South African society, where elders lie, cheat the desperate and unemployed and act with hypocrisy, an example more people follow every day. “As a country we are losing our sense of ubuntu,” Nungu says. “People are only thinking about themselves. They are greedy and as a society we are losing our way.
“In 2018 when he became president, [Cyril] Ramaphosa promised to come to my mother and the other families and apologise for what the government did to our fathers. He never did that. He never came to us. I was asking myself: ‘How does he treat his own children?’ If he can lie to us, then of course many others will too – every day,” she adds.
“I am South African, but I don’t feel like a citizen in this country. I feel like an outsider.”
This article and the accompanying photographs are a collaboration between New Frame and the Mail & Guardian.
Paul Botes and Niren Tolsi have been working on their After Marikana project since 2012.