“Marikana: A People’s History” by Julian Brown book cover. Image: Supplied / Jacana Media / The Reading List
18 Apr 2022
During the Marikana Massacre of August 2012, the country’s media filmed the initial police action, in which seventeen men were killed at what became known as “Scene One”. At “Scene Two”, another seventeen men died.
It took Daily Maverick’s Greg Marinovich two weeks to solve the deadly puzzle. In this edited extract from Marikana: A People’s History, Julian Brown analyses the first deaths that took place at this site – deaths that were initially not reported by the police but brought to public knowledge by Marinovich’s reporting.
The Deaths at “Scene Two”
There is no comprehensive video footage of the deaths at “Scene Two”. Nor is there any neutral account of what happened to the seventeen men who died here.
Some police officers have attempted to justify the killings – but in ways that are compatible neither with the stories told by other members of the police nor with the forensic evidence. Other officers have – many years after the massacre – begun to tell stories of cold-blooded murder, and the execution of surrendering workers.
Some of the survivors have also told their stories of the violence – and although no one saw everything that happened, their stories back up the idea that at least some of the police were acting murderously. These stories are all highly contested, though.
But there is also other, more reliable, information available.
After the killings, a series of post-mortem analyses of the wounds inflicted upon the dead have allowed for some claims to be made about the specific circumstances in which each individual worker was killed. There have also been forensic analyses of the site, considering the angles at which the police bullets struck the rocks and the ground, as well as where their spent cartridges fell. This has provided an overall picture of the shooting – where the police were most likely to have been standing in relation to the workers, and the distance and angles from which the police shot.
These analyses cannot give a precise timeline, but they do give a clear overview of the events – and provide a picture that largely corroborates testimonies that tell of police violence, brutality, and murder at the second scene of the massacre.
They allow us to say that Makhonsandile Mkhonjwa was probably the first person to be killed at Scene Two.
He was shot as he emerged from among the rocks and bushes, probably alongside a few other workers. They were bent down, hunched over, and trying to escape the tight corridors between the rocks and move back into the open air.
As they emerged, though, they came face to face with a group of police officers. The police say that they believed that Mkhonjwa and his companions were going to attack them – and so, they say, they opened fire with handguns and rifles. At least two of the group of workers were hit – but one managed to scramble away.
Mkhonjwa was not so lucky.
He was struck in the upper chest by a bullet fired from somewhere on his left-hand side. It slammed into him, passing through his chest and lung, and – shoved by the force of its impact – he stumbled and fell to the ground. The police claim that he was charging at him when they shot – but the trajectory of the bullet contradicts this. For the bullet to enter his body from one side, he must have been running past the police officer who shot at him – and could not have been running straight at him.
Mkhonjwa did not die at once. He was alive at least half an hour after he had been shot. After the massacre had ended, the police photographed parts of the scene – and in one of the photographs he can be seen lying on the ground, clearly still alive.
He was coughing blood. As he lay there, he must have heard the continuing pop of gunfire from just behind his head. He must have heard the police shout at each other – first in panic, and then in celebration. He must have felt the gathering chill of the evening. He must have slowly lost his strength, as he bled on the dirt, waiting to die. He was twenty-eight years old. His father had died four months earlier, and his family was still mourning. They were waiting for him in the Eastern Cape, waiting for him to call again, to tell them what had happened, to tell them he was fine.
They would not hear from him again.
He was shot at about 16:08. Moments later, a police officer reported seeing his body on the ground. In a series of frenzied communications, orders were given to the members of the National Intelligence Unit group to leave their vehicles, and to prepare themselves to confront the workers hiding in and around the rocks.
At about 16:12 – four minutes after Mkhonjwa had been shot – police officers again began to fire live ammunition. On the recordings produced by the police, it is possible to hear one officer shouting that there was firing in ‘the direction of the dogs’ – possibly at the other side of the rocks, where the canine unit was advancing.
We know that Johannes Thelejane was shot at around this time. At fifty-five years old, he was not a young man, and had only joined the strike when he had heard that the company’s managers would be addressing the crowd at the koppie. He had come down the koppie, seen the shooting at the kraal, and had fled with a crowd of other men. He hid himself on the eastern side of the rocks at Scene Two – but when he saw the police approaching, he tried to slip away. He was just on the outskirts of the rocks when the police opened fire, and shot him from behind. He was struck by bullets in the back of his head, and in his buttocks. The rocks around him were pitted with bullet scars, suggesting that he was subject to a hail of rapid fire.
The only conclusion that can be drawn from the evidence of his wounds is that he was facing away from the police at the time he was killed. He could not have offered any immediate threat. Instead, he was most likely to have been trying to escape the police, and make his way back home, where his wife was waiting for him. He did not escape, though, and died where he had fallen, struck down to the earth.
Meanwhile, Anele Mdizani was only twenty metres away when he was shot.
The bullet struck his right hip, moved through his pelvis, and came to a stop in the muscles of his leg. It struck him with such force that his legs would have immediately collapsed beneath him. He would not have been able to stand again, or even to sit up. He would have been rendered immobile. He was not close to the police officer who shot him: the nearest rifle cartridge was found more than forty metres away from him. The rocks around him – like the rocks around Johannes Thelejane’s body – were peppered with bullet scars, suggesting a rapid burst of uncontrolled fire on the part of the police officers.
He did not die at once.
He couldn’t move, and he lay still on the ground while the police approached. Someone realized that he was still alive – and instead of treating his injuries, they dragged him across the ground and bound his hands behind his back, using tight plastic cable-ties.
He was shoved into a sitting position, but his injuries meant that he could not hold himself upright. He slumped forward, unable to shift himself. He was bleeding, gasping for breath, and in pain. The police did nothing to help. They restrained him, and abandoned him – and, in doing so, ensured that his death would follow.
These deaths – and the deaths of the others who were killed at “Scene Two” – were never filmed, and never received the same degree of public attention as the initial deaths at Scene One. These deaths tell a chilling story: of the horror of being hunted down, of the terror of being surrounded, and of the brutal indignity of being insulted and abandoned without care or help by officers of the SA police. DM/ ML
Marikana: A People’s History, by Julian Brown is published by Jacana Media (R280). The book tells the stories of those who embarked on the strike, those who were killed, and of the family members who have survived to fight for the memories of their loved ones. It places the strike in the context of South Africa’s long history of racial and economic exclusion, explaining how the miners came to be in Marikana, how their lives were ordinarily lived, and the substance of their complaints. Recounting the events of the massacre in unprecedented detail, the book sets out how each miner died and everything we know about the police operation. Finally, Brown traces the aftermath: the attempts of the families of the deceased to identify and bury their dead, and then the state’s attempts to spin a narrative that placed all blame on the miners.
Visit The Reading List for South African book news – including excerpts – daily.