Forty-four lives lost, yet in political narrowness only thirty four are remembered
It is five years since the very unfortunate events of tragic proportions robbed families, friends and colleagues of their loved ones in what can be called a grave tragedy of our nation. Never before in our democratic history has a labour strike gone this awry, proved this violent and had such deaths evidenced in forty-four lives.
Who can forget that week in our history? The story is told from several sides. Besides the political mileage the tragedy of Marikana came to mean for a crossbreed of organised labour formations, political parties, some in the clergy and other individuals, it remains a story told from shaded lenses. As is often the case, not all is told because some in this narrative choose to focus only on the thirty-four workers that died at the infamous “Koppie”. We all have long ago condemned the violent action and response of the police that left 34 miners at the Koppie dead and their families in disarray. As the Farlam Commission concluded, the police have a case to answer for their actions. Amidst the calls for public holiday by some in the political fraternity, we must pause and attempt to honest.
We dare not forget the “Koppie”, where armed to the teeth workers who didn’t even accommodate the media to come close gathered. We consciously remember armed workers wielding their varied weapons hell-bent on a fight, which would leave a blood-trail in the same vein as started a few days earlier. We shall not forget the police who had briefed the media that there will be action to secure the weapons – assegais, pangas knives, knobkieries even guns – from miners. By this time, at least two officers had already paid the highest price. The workers of Lonmin at the Koppie were armed to the teeth. We are not sure to fight whom, or to kill whom.
As is common, some immediately saw an opportunity to craft a political relevance, as they capitalise every moment of the pain of forty-four people yet they distinctly became the voice for the thirty-four as the narrative took its aim against the State. They remain numb, if not indifferent, in keeping the miners accountable for their inhumane actions that saw the death of those a few days earlier.
The names and faces of Eric Mabebe, a mine supervisor, Hassan Fundi and Frans Mabelane, security guards who were brutally killed by miners on August 12, is not visible in this our narrative. We do not hear of Semi Jokanski whom it is claimed was killed by the police, and Thembelakhe Mati, Pumzile Sokanyile killed on August 13.
There is no word on Isaiah Twala a NUM shop steward killed on August 14. The silence of Julius Langa killed on his way to work. We don’t hear of Tsietsi Monene and Sello Lepaku, police officers that were killed on August 13, 2012.
Marikana therefore remains a half-told story, an incomplete picture perhaps a sentence without a full stop. Marikana is paraded in conscious, uncritical analysis, a proverbial singing from a hymnal less with reading the words to appreciate the full story. Marikana protests half a story, half a question, told from one half.
We hear all the time as it suits some political and organised labour, even religious agenda driven personalities the necessary cry for the thirty victims, their spouses and families. We must never forget these, they represent us, yet we dare not remember them in excluding the other ten. It appears those who advance the notion of thirty-four slain, consciously are oblivious to the ten who equally were slain. These refuse to talk or inculcate the full narrative. Almost aided if not fuelled by a media who equally refuse to let the forty-four instead of thirty-four count. It appears there is a silent unspoken conspiracy, a form of agreement that these ten lives simply do not matter. I intend protesting that our future demands that we do not entertain this one-sided narrative. Ours is to remember and speak up on Marikana as a moment bigger than August 16, 2017, but including the events of that same week that preceded this date.
What is missing and remains missing in our narrative are the bloody and dastard activities of the few but significant preceding days that culminated in an August 16. We never hear of the ten people, they have become the proverbial John Doe’s, personas non grata, insignificant and simply not worth pausing on. The ten victims, that died in the build-up to August 16, if we hear some who sing their beloved song have no families therefore not any claim. They are denied a voice though they equally died. All our public narrative is brimming in overflow with a one-sided police brutality that saw thirty-four dead at Marikana.
The deafening silence in search for an equal justice for the ten who died violently at the hands of miners is troubling. We do not hear or see the same exacted energy in justice calls to have the murderers of the ten brought to book. Those who have gained a political presence directly drawn from a Marikana allow the uneven practice of some black lives matter and others don’t to continue unabated.
The common villain is the State. That is what we hear, that is what we are force-fed, as some attempt proving hell-bent to recast in conditioning our collective consciousness to be alive to their preferred thirty-four and dead, if not numb to the actual real number of forty-four people.
It is here that I dare to postulate it appears only some black lives matter. It appears only some lives are important, it does appear that we seek a justice that refuses to engage in honesty and truthfulness.
Unless the other ten lives do not matter, if it does not, why are we allowing this blighted narrative of thirty-four lives be given this centrality?
Until we can attempt in maturity to engage the forty-four deaths, we will have annual political campaigns around Marikana that never will heal any wounds inflicted in that dreadful week. We may call for national holidays but what would that holiday mean if we refuse to acknowledge that forty-four Africans died and their families, friends and colleagues are denied their rightful place of remembrance?
What is sad is that some have built a temporal political relevance from this tragedy, so they will gather every year and have their moment in the blood of the forty-four; they will play political games, make wild statements until the next year. This while their actions comfortably confirms some but not all black lives matter.
Clyde N. S. Ramalaine