Two days after several black workers were shot and killed by police last week, a team of September National Imbizo (SNI) members set off to Marikana, the crime scene.Getting into the town is not an easy feat. There are at least four road blocks before you can gain access into this small town. At each stop SNI is stopped and interrogated by the police: Why are we there? Why did we choose this particular time to visit? Who is our leader? These are sensitive times we’re told and therefore every measure must be taken. The purpose of the interrogation is clear; to intimidate anyone who may be there to fan the fires.
The town itself is ghostly quiet. There are no kids playing, few traders are selling. The locals confirm the obvious to us: since the killings, everyone is scared to come out or talk. It’s a police state. We pass through a residential area. No different to any other squatter camp, the only thing is that this black dump is next to South Africa’s biggest platinum mine and feeds it with cheap black labour.
At the rock formation at which mine workers camped peacefully for a week, a lone man stands a few metres from us as if he’s eavesdropping. We call out to him, and from a distance he says he’ll speak to us only if we promise not to take pictures or video footage of him. We assure him that we are from a movement that stands with the black workers of Lonmin and will therefore not compromise his security in any way.
We are lucky to find him. He was there the day workers were murdered. It’s not hard to see that the trauma is taking its toll on him. He offers to give us a tour of the murder scene. He warns us that there is blood everywhere and bits of bone. He knows every corner. “People were crushed” he keeps repeating. When he realises that we don’t quite understand what he means he explains that several workers were shot at and ran over by “inyalas”. He tells us some of the dead could have survived had they not been crushed by these heavy duty police vehicles. He is clear. This was an ambush, a joint operation between the police and the military. Soldiers with pump guns were standing on the other side of the mountain and shooting, he says. The workers were massacred on a ‘mountain’ behind the informal settlement where they live. The ambush occurred in their backyard. They posed no threat anyone. Since the strike began they had been gathering there, addressing the people and in the evenings dispersing peacefully. He says that after the shooting he witnessed police officers gathering and burning bullets at the scene after the massacre. On that day WHY bring in the army? Why did police burn evidence?
Our guide has been working for Lonmin for five years. He then takes us to a range of rocks where several hundred more workers were stationed. There the surface is blue from whatever chemical was sprayed from a water bomb that attacked from above. The rocks, the plants and the grass are covered in a deep blue colour. Workers were spray bombed with this substance from helicopters above. Their eyes stung, they couldn’t breathe and were effectively immobilized. Our guide confirms that the majority of those who are currently detained were actually from this group.The water bomb clearly had traces of poison and one cannot help but think of Woutter Basson’s biological warfare operations during apartheid. SNI has obtained samples of the substance and will submit it for tests.
For the rest of the guided tour, our friend shows us how several people were shot while they were hiding between the rocks and under bushes. We see for ourselves splatters of blood that indicate the determination to dig workers out of their hiding holes and shoot them dead. All sorts of items of clothing and shoes, soiled with blood lie all around the scene.
What is clear from what we are told is that this was an ambush. The video material in mainstream media showing workers charging at the police was in fact workers running away from bullets being hurled from behind. Why would workers, armed with knobknorries charge at armed police? The workers were completely surrounded and what we’ve been seeing in the media is only half the story. There was clearly a mission: shoot to kill, thus the deployment of the army.
Throughout our conversation with the worker, he keeps digging into his pocket for a phone that is in tatters. He explains that it’s his friend’s phone who was crushed in the carnage. It’s all he has left of his him. He explains that he wants to get someone to check the phone and retrieve his friend’s information from it. There’s an uncomfortable silence. He knows as well as we do that the phone cannot be revived, that his friend is not going to come back to life but none of us say it. What is there to say, really?
This report was brought to you by the SNI Operation Marikana crew.