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Wonderkop

Wonderkop

  • Author: Ilan_Pomegranite
  • Date Posted: Nov 9, 2017
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Mncedisi Kidman Nkotha arrived on the platinum belt in 1989, and soon found work at a platinum mine in the area as a loader driver. In 1992, he wedded Nokhwezi Paslina Nkotha, and they took up residence at a hostel for married mineworkers. The Nkothas were content in their new home. Mncedisi worked long hours providing for his growing family – until his health began to slowly deteriorate. After several visits to the doctor, he was medically boarded in 2010 due to multiple chronic health problems. His last shift at the mine was on 30 October 2010, the termination form stating “Retirement”. Diagnosed with tuberculosis he was admitted to Kalafong Hospital, Pretoria, where he was successfully treated. Six months later, he returned home, ready to work again. At the request of his employers, Mncedisi obtained doctors letters testifying to his ability to resume employment. A medical examiner at Kalafong Hospital wrote, “Under controlled treatment he is fit to resume his normal duties.” The mine’s doctor at another hospital wrote, “Mr M.K. Nkotha (sic) may not be considered for any underground work. He may be considered for surface work only.” To his dismay, the mine’s Human Capital Consultant responded, “The mine is already over compliment (sic), there is no way we can consider Mr Nkotha for re-employment, if there is a labour shortage at any shaft, we ask other shafts personnel to assist, not to employ.” By 2013, Mncedisi was still without employment.

Nokhwezi Paslina Nkotha, 53, Hostel for married mineworkers, Wonderkop, Marikana, North West, Western Limb

Nokhwezi Paslina Nkotha, 53, Hostel for married mineworkers, Wonderkop, Marikana, North West, Western Limb

Mncedisi died from a stroke on 9 November 2014, at age 62. Nokhwezi says, “What makes my husband pass away is the stress and trauma of not working because he was thinking of his children.” Nokhwezi had hoped her son would step into his father’s shoes, but was told they no longer replace the deceased with their children. With very little in compensation for her husband’s death, and nowhere to house her family, she now faces eviction. Attempts at forced removal have seen her furniture strewn on the street, but Nokhwezi refuses to leave the hostel. With the help of several families in a similar predicament they have acquired the services of a lawyer fighting to protect their right to live here.

Andisiwe Nkotha, 17, in the backyard of her parents home, Hostel for married mineworkers, Wonderkop, Marikana, North West, Western Limb

Andisiwe Nkotha, 17, in the backyard of her parents home, Hostel for married mineworkers, Wonderkop, Marikana, North West, Western Limb.

An X-ray revealing the extent of Mncedisi Kidman Nkotha’s tuberculosis, Wonderkop, Hostel for married mineworkers, Marikana, North West, Western Limb

An X-ray revealing the extent of Mncedisi Kidman Nkotha’s tuberculosis, Wonderkop, Marikana, North West, Western Limb.

Children play in the streets, Hostel for married mineworkers, Wonderkop, Marikana, North West, Western Limb

Children play in the streets, Hostel for married mineworkers, Wonderkop, Marikana, North West, Western Limb

Alcoholism is rife in mining communities across the platinum belt. With limited recreational facilities available and high unemployment, men and women congregate in these spaces to pass the time and dull their distress.

Marikana Alive Restaurant, Wonderkop, Marikana, North West, Western Limb

Marikana Alive Restaurant, Wonderkop, Marikana, North West, Western Limb

Pump 1 and 2, Wonderkop, Marikana, North West, Western Limb

Pump 1 and 2, Wonderkop, Marikana, North West, Western Limb

Pump 1 and 2, Wonderkop, Marikana, North West, Western Limb

Pump 1 and 2, Wonderkop, Marikana, North West, Western Limb

On 15th September 2012, Ntombi and her friend Paulina Masuhlo were walking to a meeting in Nkaneng, an informal settlement in Wonderkop, when they found themselves caught in a hail of rubber bullets fired from a speeding “Nyala” police van. The police raid had allegedly been initiated to disarm striking mine workers. A month earlier, Nkaneng and the surrounding areas had become the focus of tragic events that were beamed across the world when 34 striking mineworkers died at the hands of the South African police.

Ntombi and Paulina were severely injured in the shooting, and taken to Job Shimankana Tabane Provincial Hospital, where Paulina died from her injuries. Tragically, the two friends were to have formed a new women’s organisation that day; Paulina, as an ANC councillor and Marikana activist, was someone women in the community turned to for advice and leadership.

“I was standing next to Paulina when I fell, breaking my arm and damaging my spinal cord,” recalls Ntombi. “I only found out about the damage to my spinal cord three years later after doctors initially said it was my kidneys. I had been neglecting my injuries for a long time.” Ntombi wears a brace to relieve the pain in her back yet nothing can diminish the emotional pain she feels everyday from the loss of her friends and loved ones during the tragic events of 2012.

Ntombi arrived on the Western Limb in 2004, leaving the Eastern Cape in pursuit of greener pastures, making her way to the dusty streets of Nkaneng, which she now calls home. And despite how she’s suffered here, she has no plans to leave. “I will never go back to the Eastern Cape without getting what I wanted here.” Many like Ntombi, living in Nkaneng under appalling conditions, remain hopeful of employment – believing that one day someone from the mine will respond to their curriculum vitae, despite the thousands submitted everyday.

Ntombi Mthethwa, 34, Nkaneng, Wonderkop, Marikana, North West, Western Limb

Ntombi Mthethwa, 34, Nkaneng, Wonderkop, Marikana, North West, Western Limb

Police tortured Tholakele “Bhele” Dlunga in the early hours of the morning on the 25 October 2012. Wanting to gather information on the whereabouts of other mineworkers implicated in the Lonmin strike, they placed a plastic bag over Tholakele’s head, suffocating him while they beat him. Tholakele at the time worked as a rock drill operator at Lonmin’s Karee 4 Belt, and played a key role as a negotiator prior to, and a witness during, the strikes that unfolded on the 16 August 2012 when 34 mineworkers were shot down by the South African police force. Five years later and Tholakele has taken on a new position in Lonmin as chairperson of health and safety, yet he feels nothing has really changed. Mineworkers still hope for R12 500 a month, but for now have settled on R8 000. Many of those injured that day remain at home, unemployed, paralysed and reliant on their wives who are subjected to the harsh reality of trying to make a living on the mines in place of their husbands. For many like Tholakele the idea of striking for a better wage scares them. “Management don’t come with a better solution so we are afraid to strike or march because they answer with bullets.” Tholakele gestures to an AMCU poster. “We have our president, ‘the son of God’, Joseph Mathunjwa, so we hope that he is going to help us.”

Since the publishing of this story Tholakele was tragically shot dead on the 17th of October 2017.

Tholakele Dlunga, 38 with his wife Nocanyiso Dlunga and son Ivha Dlunga outside their mining hostel accommodation, Wonderkop, Marikana, North West, Western Limb

Tholakele Dlunga, 38 with his wife Nocanyiso Dlunga and son Ivha Dlunga outside their mining hostel accommodation, Wonderkop, Marikana, North West, Western Limb

Out of view of news footage that aired to the world the gunning down of striking Lonmin mineworkers by the South African police on the 16th August 2012, 14 of the 34 murdered that day lay lifeless amongst the cracked rocky outcrop 300 metres behind Wonderkop. The boulders of “Small Koppie” – now known as “Killing Koppie” – had offered temporary refuge for the miners fleeing the police, though they were soon hunted down by a SAPS tactical response team and shot at close range. More than four years after the Marikana massacre, the presidency has finally issued a directive calling on relevant government departments to implement recommendations made by the Farlam Commission of Inquiry. Several police officers are facing murder or attempted murder charges.

Flower wreaths placed at “scene two” of the Marikana massacre, Wonderkop, Marikana, North West, Western Limb

Flower wreaths placed at “scene two” of the Marikana massacre, Wonderkop, Marikana, North West, Western Limb

Power lines providing much needed electricity to Lonmin Western Platinum Mine’s Rowland Shaft and neighbouring mining operations and smelters.

Power lines, Wonderkop, Marikana, North West, Western Limb

Power lines, Wonderkop, Marikana, North West, Western Limb

Johannes Mokwena, 74, has lived in Wonderkop his whole life. In the mid 1970s he worked at a platinum mine where he first contracted tuberculosis. Since then the disease has returned sporadically over the years, and Johannes is currently on chronic medication for the disease. He blames the tailings for his health problems. “You see the dust, it sometimes blows into the village. We are constantly cleaning this place. We spray water and it settles the dust, but most of the time, that’s not the problem; if it’s not the dust particles from the tailings, it’s the smoke that comes from the smelter. This is why a lot of people in this area are not healthy.”

Johannes Mokwena, 74, Tuberculosis victim, Wonderkop, Marikana, North West, Western Limb

Johannes Mokwena, 74, Tuberculosis victim, Wonderkop, Marikana, North West, Western Limb

Storm clouds hang overhead as strong winds carry dust tailings into the community. Informal settlements around mining operations in Marikana and the surrounds have been directly affected by dust pollution, further exacerbated in windy conditions. Dust suppression systems have been installed on the tailings in an attempt to control high dust levels. However, with communities living in close proximity to these tailings, the efficacy of such systems is limited. Community members complain that the high dust levels contaminate food and water, and many children in the area suffer from asthma and other respiratory-related illnesses. Professor Eugene Cairncross from the Cape Peninsula University of Technology writes, “Health impacts from dust include breathing and respiratory systems, damage to lung tissue, cancer and premature death.”

Fraser Alexander Tailings (Lonmin – Western Plats – Dam 5 Tailings Complex), Wonderkop, Marikana, North West, Western Limb

Fraser Alexander Tailings (Lonmin – Western Plats – Dam 5 Tailings Complex), Wonderkop, Marikana, North West, Western Limb

Water pipes, Fraser Alexander Tailings (Lonmin – Western Plats – Dam 5 Tailings Complex), Wonderkop, Marikana, North West, Western Limb

Water pipes, Fraser Alexander Tailings (Lonmin – Western Plats – Dam 5 Tailings Complex), Wonderkop, Marikana, North West, Western Limb

Rumours abound in Nkaneng of a giant serpent that lives in its depths. Fearful of what lurks below, the community generally stay away, yet this hasn’t stopped the site being used for torture and in some cases murder. Vigilantism has become an ongoing concern for residents of Nkaneng, a sprawling informal settlement adjacent to Lonmin’s Marikana Platinum Mine and Smelter. People here live cheek by jowl in cramped conditions, with crime rife and the police doing very little to curb it.

An abandoned quarry, Nkaneng, Wonderkop, Marikana, North West, Western Limb

An abandoned quarry, Nkaneng, Wonderkop, Marikana, North West, Western Limb

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