The Women of Marikana
It’s a long drive to Marikana, a boring and confusing one actually, but once you cross the railway lines in the little town’s hub, an abrupt greyness greets you. There are factory chimneys belching clouds of smoke, Eskom substations and a stream of power lines, grey soil, grey skies all giving off a feeling of emptiness and hopelessness. That’s how you know you’ve reached Nkaneng – which translated into English, means a place of defiance. Judging by recent events there, that spirit is very strong in Nkaneng’s people.
At first people seem to be going on with their daily activities but closer to the grey shacks of the Nkaneng community, it becomes clear people are actually leaving their tasks and heading to a Legotla. It’s not just the men; the women are marching with them in unison, defying roles generally associated with women in rural areas.
It’s at the Legotla, where the tragic showdown between striking miners and police officers that left 34 men dead is being discussed with some of the country’s political leaders. It’s also where 39-year-old Melita Ramosedi is the most vocal. She found the inspiration to become more involved in her community when she saw bodies lying across a veld just outside her house, after a clash between miners and police officers.
“Lonmin needs to understand we also feel our men’s frustrations. Men can’t raise families on four thousand rand a month,” she says. She continues to say, “The worst thing is that miners spend their days underground drilling and moving hard rock, but have nothing to show for it.”
Julia Ratladi’s not as vocal or keen to chat but when she does, it’s an endless list of profound questions, coupled with insightful opinions. “My spirit’s so low. Do you understand how many children have been left without fathers because of that shooting? Families have lost breadwinners!”
When asked if no one predicted the bloodshed, she gives an emphatic no, explaining she fails to understand how men sitting on a mountain and not vandalising mine property or harassing mine bosses, were wrong.
“I know if our men knew they wouldn’t live to see Friday morning they wouldn’t have been there.”
You can almost imagine 23-year-old Nomusile Mdze as unassuming. So beautiful yet her eyes tell a painful story, constantly on the verge of releasing a flurry of tears. She holds her 2-year-old child and softly tells her story. She didn’t witness the shooting, but with her child strapped to her back she started a quest to find her husband Bongani Mdze when he didn’t come back from the mountain.
It was only after being sent back and forth at the hospital that she learnt of his fate. Mdze says the pain of his death haunts her. She can’t sleep and feels powerless about her future. “He did everything for me and his family back home. Even bought the clothes I have on."
The women of Marikana agree their men were the victims of a cruel system. They were fighting to improve a community without proper electricity, water supplies and tarred roads.
To them it seems the gap between the haves and the have not’s continues to grow but true to Nkaneng’s spirit, they refuse to shy away from the frontline when it comes to fighting for a better life.