Book Review: Marikana – A View from the Mountain and a Case to Answer

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Reading a book about Marikana, a brutal story of how mineworkers were killed while striking for a living wage, is always going to be an emotional challenge.

What this book has done is give me first hand insights from the mineworkers’ perspective into what really happened on the fateful day of 16 August 2012. The book is partly about a collection of interviews of mineworkers who were at the receiving end of the shooting.

This is the first book that attempts to understand the massacre on 16 August. It can only provide a starting point for future scholarship and it does not attempt to explain what happened from the perspective of all stakeholders involved.

We have always heard this story from journalists’ perspective, or people who were not at the receiving end of the brutal massacre. The book confirmed to me that it is important to sometimes take newspaper reports with a pinch of salt. Sometimes journalists report stories from their dimension only which sometimes does not tell the entire story.

The Marikana Massacre seized the lives of at least 34 people. This is the most brutal massacre under a democratically elected government. Marikana: A View from the Mountain and a Case to Answer is a story told from the mineworkers’ point of view.

The book provides a perspective that is vital for balance assessments, not only because it comes from the side of the slain, but also as an antidote to the dominant storyline.

Jane Duncan conducted an analysis of sources used in South African newspapers in their coverage of Marikana and Lonmin from 12 to 22 August, a moment when opinions were strongly influenced.

This shows that:

– 27% of references were business sources,

– 14% were managers and owners of mines, and

– only 3% were ‘workers.’

This bias was shaped, supplemented and re-enforced by dramatic footage of the killings taken by TV cameras conveniently located just behind the police front-line. With honourable exceptions, journalists lacked the credibility, commitment and patience to build the trust necessary to get the worker’s story.

The interviews conducted as a foundation of this books were conducted a couple of days after the massacre, when the tensions and emotions were still high.

The following are some of the revelations in this book:

  • The police had barbwire which they used to encircle the workers on the mountain before they started shooting.
  • The head of SA Police says the cops went to the mountain to disperse the mineworkers, if that was the case how do you disperse striking mineworkers when you have barbwire to encircle them?
  • There was a meeting by the police and Lonmin management (without unions) a few hours before the massacre. After the meeting, the word which came out was that it is time this “situation” is ended.
  • Contrary to the belief that the mineworkers saw a sangoma, no mention of a sangoma was made in the interviews of the majority of mineworkers. People at rural areas see sangomas all the time, just like people go to church and pray.
  • The mineworkers who were on strike were not part of NUM or AMCU. According to the mineworkers, they were representing themselves because they had lost trust in unions.
  • Joseph Mathunjwa (leader of AMCU) went to speak to the mineworkers at the mountain a few minutes before the massacre, he pleaded with them, even went on his knees begging them to disperse and promising them that he will take their grievances to management. The mineworkers refused, when he left, just a few minutes later the massacre began.
  • The mineworkers were shot at running away, most of the wounds were back wounds. No warning bullets were shot, no rubber bullets were shot, no water cannons were brought. Only after a few minutes later after massacre, water cannons were brought and used.

The Marikana massacre was ghastly. In other settings, events of this kind have led to the defeat of a movement, or at least its abeyance. But that is not what happened here. On the contrary, the strike got stronger.

Somehow, despite 34 colleagues being killed and with many more injured or detained, workers found the strength to pull themselves together and determine that the strike would continue. This was one of the most remarkable acts of courage in labour history, anywhere and at any time.

Mr-Green-Blanket

One of the leaders of the striking miners, Mambush also known as “the man in the green blanket” was killed during the massacre.

Rating:

8/10

This is a simple book to read. It is an accumulation of interviews conducted two days after the massacre. As a result it is a highly emotive book because it was captured when emotions were still high.

If you want a balanced view of the Marikana massacre, this book attempts to do that. I would recommend it to anyone. It is gives the side of mineworkers. It goes in their psyche to try to understand what happened on the fateful day of the massacre. I’m interested to see what the Farlan Commission of Inquiry into the matter says regarding the massacre.

In a democratic country, people should not be killed for striking for a living wage. This has to be one of the most disappointing moments in South Africa.

Some of the quotes from the book:

  • Her family consists of six children, five of who are in school while one is looking for work. The other day, the younger son was asking his older sister: ‘Why is Daddy not coming home?’ He had heard that his father and others were fighting with the police at the foot of the mountain. ‘Where is he?’ he inquired further. A nine-year-old girl asked her (mother), ‘Mommy, why are the police killing Daddy, while we are still so young?’
  • “We work under a lot of pressure from our bosses because they want production, and then there is also intimidation. They want you to do things that are sub-standard, and if you don’t want to that and follow the rules… They say they will fire you or beat you, things like that”
  • When you start saying “safety, safety, safety, they (management) say “what should we do? Should we not take out the stof (blased ore-bearing rock), and just sit here, because you don’t want to be hurt?”
  • For the Marikana strikers, the fear of death, present on 16 August (day of massacre), was not a new experience.

May their Soul Rest in Eternal Peace

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