Two years on, South Africa's Marikana widows wait for answers

15th August 2014, Comments 0 comments

Two years after South Africa police shot dead 34 striking miners at Marikana, the men's widows still wait for answers about how and why their husbands died.

They have sat for months on end, watching the inquest, hoping for answers.

But as the two-year anniversary of the tragedy approaches on August 16, they are still wondering.

The massacre, after violent clashes with the police at the Lonmin platinum mine, north of Johannesburg during a work stoppage, has widely been compared to apartheid-era atrocities.

Testimony from a steam of witnesses has left little more than a muddled account of what happened on a rocky and dusty stretch of Highveld.

Who gave the order to shoot? Did leading politicians steer the police's actions? Did the miners themselves intend violence?

"We just want to know the truth, how our husbands were killed and why," Nolundi Tukuza, 39, widowed mother of five told AFP.

Amid public fury, President Jacob Zuma set up the inquiry, which began work on October 1 and was sceduled to run for only four months.

Twenty-two months later Tukuza and many others feel like they are not being told the whole story, that the government and the police are protecting their own.

The commission itself has accused the police of hiding documents, tampering with evidence and of outright lies.

"It's not clear yet that we will get the answers because at times it appears things are being shielded," said Tukuza, her sentences punctuated by sobs.

Many of the widows are still too distraught to take the stand to give their own testimonies.

Their evidence was rather read out to the commission by lawyers.

Although the widows get regular counselling, they struggle thinking about the moment their husbands perished.

During this week's proceedings one woman passed out and medics had to be called in to resuscitate her before she was taken to hospital.

Several others were briefly admitted.

It took a lot of persuasion for the widows to speak to the media and answers were brief.

"I was widowed at the age of 18," said Phumeza Mabiya, 20, avoiding eye contact as she battled to hold back tears.

Her husband Mafolisi was killed when she was just one month pregnant. She named their daughter Precious.

- Finding the truth -

"It's certainly taken longer than anyone of us anticipated," said the commission's chief lawyer Geoff Budlender.

"But if it hadn't been as thorough as it has been, we would have more difficulties to find the truth. This is the price of finding the truth," he told AFP.

The commission's chair and retired judge Ian Farlam told AFP: "The main point it took long time is that as the case developed, it became apparent there was an enormous amount of witnesses and evidence to go through."

The commission is certain it will conclude its hearings by the end of September.

The widows' lawyer James Nichol said "its sad" that the hearing has lasted this long.

The widows have travelled to the hearings from the southeastern province of Eastern Cape from where many mine workers are drawn.

Some have left behind small children who have to attend school, while they stay in a Pretoria hotel where government puts them up.

Financially, they are battling to make ends meet.

While they get a $30 rand government grant per child, each month they say that is not enough. There are also extended family members that need to be taken care of.

"If you ask each of these families to tip their purses and you add up what they have between them, I bet you of the 34 families, you would not get more than 1,000 rand ($100)," said their lawyer Nichol.

"They go home, they cant afford to feed their children."

"We are begging government and Lonmin to take care of us and our children," said Zameka Nungu-Lehupa, mother of six.

Some still live in fear.

Forty-three year old Aisha Fundi's husband was a Lonmin security guard who was among ten others killed in the days bookending August 16.

He was brutally killed by workers and his body parts reportedly used for voodoo rituals.

Now Fundi has moved from Marikana to rent a house in the nearby city of Rustenburg.

"People are playing politics with our feelings. I just want closure," said Fundi, a teacher who has taken unpaid leave so that she attend each of the commission's sessions.

Mines Minister Ngoako Ramatlhodi this week promised the government will do all it can to ease the pain inflicted on the families of the slain.

"We will do whatever we can in the long term to contribute towards the alleviation of the pain," said the minister.


© 2014 AFP

0 Comments To This Article