Finding a wounded miner is hard
Trying to unravel what happened at Marikana on 16 August and for a week prior to that, would have been difficult even without the contradictions now dogging anyone attempting to get the facts. Depending on who you ask, it is possible to get five or six versions of the same story, each one tweaked to suit the agenda of whoever you're talking to.
The line fed to the public by the police has been the one to take the heaviest battering. Speaking in the aftermath of the shooting, national police commissioner Mangwashi Riah Phiyega said the police had opened fire on the striking miners in self-defence. An examination of the footage caught by several news organisations did not make their claim that clear-cut. While some miners had pistols (film footage shows one being fired in the general direction of the police line), it seemed as if the police had panicked and reacted with a hail of bullets from automatic weapons.
The Star then reported that most of the men who were shot had exit wounds on their chests - they were shot from behind. As we interviewed more and more miners who still continue to strike at Wonderkop, tales surfaced of bullets from helicopters above and Nyalas (police armoured trucks) crushing the bodies on the ground.
Whenever a delegation visits the meeting area where the miners assemble, one of the leaders first recounts the events preceding the shooting. From the very beginning, they mentioned a "second koppie" where the majority of the murders happened. An examination of the spot told a grim story. The markings in the area did not tell the story of police firing in self-defence.
On Thursday, I wanted to see if I could find a survivor in hospital. Perhaps some of the wounded men would tell of being shot in the back.
Getting into any hospital is not a doddle under normal circumstances. These aren't tourist spots, after all. But at the Andrew Saffy Memorial Hospital, located on Lonmin PLC property in Marikana, the security guards flat-out refused to let me in. Media members are not allowed in without special permission from Lonmin's communications department, I was told.
According to two people interviewed outside the Lonmin hospital, the only way to get inside was to mention a name that would then be verified against the list of the dead or injured. The security guard modified that a little - you would be told if the person you sought was dead or not. Sometimes relatives were allowed inside, but other times they weren't, because the person had been discharged into the custody of the police. The people outside said the same thing. Some people had been discharged and taken away by the police.
"At Ga-Rankuwa magistrate's court, there are 270 people there. Originally they only arrested 259. So the rest are the people who are taken from hospital," said one man, who identified himself as a Lonmin employee. He said that one of his friends had been taken to the Netcare Ferncrest Hospital just outside Rustenburg.
At the Ga-Rankuwa court, a small group of people protested outside the gates. Inside, just outside the packed courtroom, I came across one of the men who spoke when the inter-ministerial committee that visited the striking miners a few days ago. He confirmed some people in police custody were taken from hospitals.
An activist closely connected to the miners said some of the wounded had been taken to Ferncrest, Life Peglerae and other hospitals in Rustenburg. Asking there proved fruitless as well. Weirdly, at most of these places, merely asking if any guys from Marikana were brought in provoked an immediate defensive response. Most said there were never any. Almost at the same time, asking the security guards yielded this answer: "Hmmm. I'm not sure if they're still here."
Lonmin spokesperson Sue Vey said that the ban on random visitors at Andrew Saffy wasn't sinister at all. "We ensure that we safeguard the privacy of our patients. It got so crowded last week with people wanting to see the injured that it became a hygiene risk. [The ban] has nothing to do with police arresting those who are discharged, but it is a hygiene issue," she said.
She also confirmed that the peace accord was going ahead, and that the unions and representatives of the striking miners were part of the talks.
Lonmin is still handling the matter as one of public disorder rather than a labour dispute, Vey said.
This leaves the miners facing a lengthy court battle with the distinct possibility that any deals struck will exclude them, even if they are found innocent. Charged under archaic Apartheid legislation such as common purpose, the prosecution is attempting on the face of it, to find the people who were shot at guilty of the murders and attempted murders of those who were dead or injured.
That places those who were injured and now in holding cells in the startling position of facing attempted murder charges for the bullet holes in their own bodies.
This is far beyond "curiouser and curiouser"; it is now well into the realm of "madder and madder"
This column appeared in the Daily Maverick.