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
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.
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
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
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
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
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
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
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
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
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
Jerry Chen-Jen Tien writes in Practical Mine Ventilation Engineering: “…lack of proper ventilation often will cause lower worker efficiency and decreased productivity, increased accident rates and absenteeism… [Whereas] a well designed and properly implemented ventilation system will provide beneficial physiological and psychological side effects that enhance employee safety, comfort, health, and morale.”
Providing much needed extraction of pollutants from operations deep underground (including diesel emissions, blasting fumes, radiation, dust, battery emissions, and many other contaminants), these ominous structures stand like giant lungs across the platinum belt. A relentless hum and heady smell envelops the surrounds as invisible pollutants are released day and night into the communities that share the land above ground. “This ventilation shaft is very close to us,” says Ephraim Masekgaole Mphethi of Mantjakane Village on the Eastern Limb. “Immediately after a blast, the smell comes over to us – that smell, we don’t know how dangerous it is to our lives. No one is trying to monitor our lives…”
Ventilation Shaft – No Name, Marikana, North West, Western Limb
In 2004, Jacobeth was returning home from a long day at work at Bafokeng Rasimone Platinum Mine when her life suddenly took a tragic turn. “I found my sister standing on the corner by the mines, I was surprised to see her standing there, when I got out of the car I was told that my son had died.” Rebonepuso Lekoro, 9, and his friend Boitumelo Mfalapitsa, 10, drowned in an abandoned pit where they got trapped in the mud while swimming. “I was amazed because my son was a swimmer, I found the water to be so innocent. I asked ‘how did you see that there are people in the water?’ They said, ‘look – there are their clothes.’ When I looked, there were the clothes that I was preparing for him that morning to go to school. That was when I accepted that I have a funeral, my son was dead.”
Jacobeth needed to know who owned the land, and travelled to the Department of Mineral Resources in Klerksdorp where she found out that farm “103 JQ” was owned by the Royal Bafokeng Nation, although there was a transaction between the Bafokeng and SA Ferrochrome. While to this day, nobody has taken responsibility for the death of Jacobeth’s son, SA Ferrochrome came forward and contributed R5000 towards the funeral. A letter from the company stated: “The community would like to send their sincere condolences to the Lekoro family for the tragic loss of their child.” SA Ferrochrome and Bafokeng Rasimone Platinum Mine deny that the land is used for mining purposes; it is considered “no man’s land” by mining inspectors. However, community members dispute this, claiming the land was used for mining purposes and should have been rehabilitated. Thirteen years later, Jacobeth’s pain remains. “I have lost my son, and it is because of this mining industry. I lost my son and there is no way something – money or what – is going to compensate me. There is a hole in my heart till today.”
Jacobeth Lekoro, 56, Rasimone, North West, Western Limb
As the day draws to a close, young men gather on the mine dumps that overlook the community of Mmaditlhokwa Township, Marikana. New friendships are formed and fervent discussion is at times interrupted by the sudden deafening shudder of explosives being detonated on the horizon. An open cast pit known as the “Western Pit” lies precariously close to human habitation, bringing with it noise pollution and an overbearing cloud of dust with every bang. Depending on the direction of the wind, toxic fumes often engulf the community.
Mmaditlhokwa Township, Marikana, North West, Western Limb
Not long ago, Spruitfontein was a small agrarian village where farmers and farm labourers alike benefitted from the rich arable surrounds and abundant grazing land. Things began to change in 2008, with the purchase of the farm by Tharisa Minerals. Homes were demolished, families relocated and the soil churned in search of platinum-rich deposits deep underground. Today, everybody is a stranger in Mmaditlhokwa Township. Some remember what life was like in these parts before the mines but even the “old-timers” have resigned themselves to their new home. Across a sprawling bare and dusty landscape, new shelters continue to pop up daily – two-room zinc houses glinting under the harsh Limpopo sun, the luxuriant vegetation and shade that once existed here now consigned to memory.
For those travelling from far and wide across Southern Africa, the road to Rustenburg is the chance to make one’s fortune in a place of opportunity and wealth. Young and old journey from as far as Lesotho, the Free State, Lethabong, Miriting and Taung, gradually acclimatising to a more dreary reality, their hopes buried deep in the ground, their reliance on the mine absolute.
Mmaditlhokwa Township, Marikana, North West, Western Limb
Siviwe works at Marikana Platinum Mine, Kareer 3 Shaft as a winch operator. Both Siviwe and Mandisa are from the Eastern Cape. Siviwe played an active role in the Marikana protests, during which he lost several friends and work colleagues.
Siviwe Sobopha, 30 and his wife Mandisa Vuma (Sobopha), 29, Marikana West, Marikana, North West, Western Lim
Mine workers from the surrounds gather to play football between shifts.
Karee Master F.C vs Arrows F.C, Marikana West, Marikana, North West, Western Limb
Ditshele Johannes “Dee Jay” Lekoro, father of three, sits in the living room of his home with his son Resentse. He resides in the relocated village of Mafenya, a small community north of Rustenburg. A longstanding employee at Royal Bafokeng Rasimone Platinum Mine, where he worked as a full-time shop steward for the UASA (United Association of South Africa) union, Dee Jay was dismissed on 14 September 2012 at the height of the mining protests that swept the platinum belt. On the day of his dismissal he arrived at his shift to find he couldn’t gain access to the premises. He says he was interrogated by mine authorities who accused him of conspiring to arrange an illegal strike at the mine. Mine authorities subsequently issued him with a letter of dismissal and he was escorted off the premises. He claims that in the process of taking his dismissal to the CCMA, he was taunted by one of the mine’s executives. “He told me that I could take my case to whoever I wanted – he had enough money to buy those people who are representing me.” The CCMA eventually notified him that the case needed to be dealt with by the Labour Court, but in the meantime, Dee Jay had found new employment as a contractor for a company called Shaft Sinkers at Stelton Shaft, on the premises of the Royal Bafokeng Rasimone Mine. He says it was not long before Shaft Sinkers received notice from the mine to the effect that if Dee Jay remained in their employment, they would lose their contract.
Dee Jay has been without work ever since. He believes his reputation has been tarnished and any future employment opportunities thwarted by the fact that Royal Bafokeng Rasimone Platinum Mine have blacklisted him on a central database utilised by mining operations across the country. “The fact of the matter is that I am going to be at home without employment for the rest of my life,” he says resignedly. He also worries about his children carrying the Lekoro name and whether they too will also be subjected to the same treatment.
Dee Jay says his situation isn’t unique, and that hundreds of other breadwinners from the Macharora community (encompassing the villages of Chaneng, Mafenya, Rasimone and Robega) have been dismissed by the mine on the basis of alleged involvement in unprotected strike action. “Those people were not even in that unprotected strike, the mine decides there is no need for these kind of people and then finds a way to get rid of them. You know if you are an activist and you start talking about things which are the truth, the people who are doing those things end up not being very happy.”
Ditshele Johannes Lekoro and son Resentse, Mafenya Village, Macherora community, Limpopo, Western Limb
Priscilla and her family were forced to relocate from Lekgoropaneng (literally, “Gravel Place”) to Mafenya to make way for a platinum mine’s mining operations. Consultations began in 1998 when residents were assured a pre-built home awaited them. However, Priscilla found on her arrival in 2000 that no house had been built for her family; they were simply given a piece of land to build their own home on. Even though other residents of Lekgoropaneng were given designated homes in Mafenya, Priscilla seemed to have been left off the list. It has taken many years to build a place that they can finally call home, and it has been a long and arduous journey. Members of the community have suggested corruption and bribery were at play, and that people paid off officials to have a home in Mafenya, bumping Priscilla off the list. Surrounded by mining operations, the community members will never be certain of what the future holds. Ditshele Johannes Lekoro, a fellow Mafenya resident, says, “we were not treated fairly in this regard, we are going to live with this pain forever. And maybe the mine will come here and say, ‘we have seen [more mineral deposits in] this place, we want to relocate you from here to another place’ – what will be the response from the community then?”
Bonolo Maboe, 29, Eddy Maboe, 25, Priscilla Maboe, 51, Mafenya, North West, Western Limb
The R104 road bears the charred remains of a community protest earlier that morning. In the twilight hours of Thursday 6 October, the smell of burning rubber and dark clouds of smoke rise above a group of men and women gathered to voice their concerns. The sprawling mining community of Ikemeleng in Kroondal, seven kilometres outside Rustenburg on the Western Limb of the platinum belt, forms the nexus of six mining companies – Lonmin, Xstrata, Samancor, Lanxess, Aquarius and Anglo American. Once the small rural farming village of the Mahermane and Baphalane people, since the establishment of these mines in the 1990s, the area has grown into an overpopulated informal settlement. Ikemeleng remains a flashpoint for people seeking employment and a better way of life, many journeying at great risk from all over Africa in search of financial opportunities. Yet in an already congested area that continues to grow rapidly, problems are also multiplying. Besides a lack of basic services, substance abuse, HIV/Aids and other STDs, rape, underage pregnancy and xenophobia are all rife, while the overbearing pressure of unemployment brings with it sex work and crime. Historically, protest in South Africa has been a formidable tool in the fight for change – a collective voice heard by all. This is certainly the case in the mining sector, where the disruption of mining and municipal operations by people from communities like Ikemeleng has become commonplace.
Protest, 6 October 2016, Ikemeleng, Marikana, North West, Western Limb
Steven Tshokolo Ramokhula, Ikemeleng, Marikana, North West, Western Limb
The prospect of a better life, job security and the need to earn a living wage lures many families like Andile’s to the platinum belt. It was here, at the Glencore Xstrata Mine, that his father found a job as a drill rig operator, while his mother cared for the home and family until her untimely death in 2013. Andile arrived on the western limb in 2009 to join his parents, who had settled in Ikemeleng, a sprawling, overpopulated informal settlement seven kilometres outside Rustenburg. His uncle arranged a job for him as a driver with a contractor at the mine, and Andile has since been working shifts to earn a small wage while he focuses on pursuing his career as a hip-hop artist. “In Rustenburg there are places where you can express yourself so you can be heard around the world. So that is why I am here. I am looking for a recording deal and I am pushing my career forward through music.”
Andile Mswazi, 26, Rapper and Hip-Hop artist, Ikemeleng, Marikana, North West, Western Limb
Anonymous, Unemployed mine worker, Rose Tavern, Ikemeleng, Marikana, North West, Western Limb
In the 1960s, the 27000 acres of land predominantly owned by the Bafokeng Tribe (now known as the Royal Bafokeng Nation) were signed over to form the Impala Platinum mining company. Ga-Luka is one of 29 villages that make up the Royal Bafokeng Nation, and it was here that Malcolm was born on 8 August 1980. Now 36, he has lived a troubled existence, battling to provide for his family and thwarted at every attempt to obtain employment on the mines that have built up around him. To survive he has resorted to piece meal jobs. One of these involved collecting fragments of broken mine equipment and other waste metal – from an illegal dumping ground on the outskirts of the village the community claim was created by Impala Platinum – which he would then sell as scrap. In 1999, he was falsely accused by the scrapyard he was selling to of stealing money from them. He was 19 at the time and spent 18 months in prison for a crime he never committed. This would be the first of fifteen arrests to plague his life.
Even though his innocence was subsequently established, Malcolm’s name and reputation were forever tarnished. He describes how in returning to his village, where the community immediately marked him as a criminal. He also believes he has been blacklisted as an instigator by the mine because of his arrest 18 years ago. He describes how, whenever there is a protest in the community, he is one of the first to be arrested, even if he was not there that day – though he attributes this to bribery and corruption within Ga-Luka. “I don’t know who goes to the police but there are those who stab us in the back, when we fight for the community.” Over the years, he has suffered regular beatings and abuse at the hands of the police.
Many young men share Malcolm’s fate – desperate to survive, disenfranchised, traditional values breaking down without the farming their forefathers could rely on to provide a livelihood and maintain their dignity. The new generation have had no other option but to fight for work, participating in protests targeted at the mine, and in so doing, often ruining their only chance at gainful employment. There is a sense of discontent in these men; they feel alienated by the influx of people from other parts of South Africa who move into the community to work on the mines. They claim that jobseekers from other parts of the country and from neighbouring countries rent back rooms in their yards – often the only source of income for many in the village now that they are without their farms and without jobs. But the jobseekers also have sexual relations with their sisters and bring with them sexually transmitted diseases, and locals feel that they are given undue precedence for mining jobs. “We are always sending our CV,” says Malcolm, “but I am telling you, a person from the Transkei will come and be my tenant, tomorrow after five days he gets a job.”
Malcolm Ngcobo, 36, Ga-Luka Village, Limpopo, Tau Section, Western Limb
“The mines that are operating around our village have nothing to do with our community. They continue to talk about the allocation of funds that will come in the 2017… 2018… 2019… financial year. We don’t really know who to go and speak with because they never come and meet us. We protest over and over and over, now we are tired.” Michael’s sentiments are shared by many. Arrested for “intimidating” a royal headman after questioning his leadership values and commitment to the community during a heated argument, he believes the headmen are afraid to talk because they have instructions from the royal security council, which is led by the king, to shut down dialogue on the issue. “To be arrested is a harsh way, and it is a brutal way”, says Michael. Although he was granted bail for R1000 and the charges were subsequently dropped, his arrest sends a clear message to those who voice their views: that there are limits to how far you are allowed to go in protest.
Michael Rangaka, 38, Community Activist, Ga-Luka Village, Mogono Section, Limpopo, Western Limb
David was three years old when he left Ga-Luka Village, returning to the place of his birth after he had gained his matric. What he found as a young adult was a community in decline, with unemployment high, and frustration, especially among the youth, at boiling point. He describes a community kept in the dark about goings on at the mine, and unable to voice their concerns. Driven to effect positive change and ensure the community are paid their dues, he established the “Luka Morora Community Structure” in 2012. The objective is to pressure Impala Platinum to abide by their social responsibilities to the affected community, making sure they provide jobs and various business development opportunities, and improve the overall infrastructure within Ga-Luka Village.
Unfortunately, in the intervening years, the Luka Morora Community Structure has met with little success, and the community says the mines continue to shirk their social responsibilities. Bribery corrupts even the most staunch community activists; David himself claims he was offered a job on the mine in 2014 to keep his views to himself. He refused, and remains unemployed to this day, despite having applied for a mining position through “conventional means” on several occasions. To get by, he provides accommodation to the mineworkers that come from as far as the Eastern Cape, Lesotho and KwaZulu-Natal. Even this is a source of frustration to him as he feels these jobs should be for the Bafokeng people rather than “outsiders”.
David recognises the protest action has so far proven futile, and that ordinary community members have little say in what happens. “The Rustenburg Local Municipality have entered into a memorandum of understanding with the Royal Bafokeng Nation,” he explains. “These mines are under the Royal Bafokeng Nation, and so we cannot succeed.” Nevertheless, he and his fellow community activists continue to challenge the mine structures, however unattainable change seems to be. “We must continue to voice our concerns whatever the obstacles,” he insists.
David Rangaka, 36, Community Activist, Ga-Luka Village, Mogono Section, Limpopo, Western Limb
Enock waits for the bus to take him to Anglo Platinum’s Thembelani Mine to start his shift, where he works as a winch operator at Thembelani 1 Shaft. Originally from Mpumalanga, he arrived in the platinum belt in 2006.
Enock Lubisi, 35, Winch Operator from Mpumalanga, Bleskop, Marikana, North West, Western Limb
Bapong, a sprawling village with a population of approximately 40 000, is the epicentre of the Bapo Ba Mogale royal community. The Bapo people first settled here around 200 years ago on land that holds some of the richest platinum deposits in the world. Lonmin was established here in 1970 on the basis of a lease agreement to pay the community royalties on the minerals extracted. Otto arrived in Bapong in 1989, working at the now-closed Newman Shaft for eleven years as an underground rigger, before moving to the “change house”, where he saw out the remainder of his working years.
Now a pensioner, Otto is an active representative and concerned resident of Bapong’s Newtown section. In 2015, he was summoned to the royal palace, shortly after presenting a letter he had signed on behalf of the community pertaining to various grievances. These grievances included Newtown councillors not performing their duties, lack of employment opportunities, and members of the tribal authority not participating in meetings with the chiefs to hear the community’s concerns. Adding to the general air of dissatisfaction among the community, a controversial R664m equity deal had recently been signed between Lonmin and the royal council, which would see mineral royalties converted into company shares. Otto was among those who voiced dissatisfaction with the agreement, believing the community would not benefit. This, he believes, also strained his relations with the royal palace. On his arrival, Otto stood before a chamber of more than 100 people who quizzed him on the grievances contained in his letter. Upon insisting they speak directly to the community about them, Otto claims senior members of the Bapo Ba Mogale Tribal Authority proceeded to beat him. A friend later took him to a local clinic, where he was treated for a fractured left hand and contusions to his body. Otto says he went with witnesses to the meeting who have refused to testify about the beating, who he says were bribed to keep quiet. He breaks down in tears as he reveals that family members working at the royal palace were present but didn’t intervene when he was attacked. He opened a case at Mooinooi police station, but nothing has come of it. “I have reopened my case several times, and every time I go back, they say my case has been dropped and nobody is going to jail.” His daughter has since left Bapong for fear of reprisals, but for now, Otto is staying put.
Community members claim that voicing concerns or gathering in groups of more than five to discuss community issues is restricted, and that even elderly people have been beaten and are afraid to testify and open cases. They say that in December, food parcels are given out to the people of Bapong as Christmas gifts, and those that speak out against the royal palace don’t receive them. Meanwhile, Otto’s injuries continue to give him pain and discomfort, and disturb his sleep. He says he has lost hope, yet he remains defiant. “They can do whatever they want with me, I don’t care because I know I didn’t fault anybody, even if they can kill me, it’s okay.”
Otto Lekalakala, 67, Bapong, Newtown section, North West, Western Limb
It is an age-old story within the mining sector, an endless and overbearing concern of every miner who toils night and day in the underbelly of the earth, working for a living wage. In August 2009, 3 921 men employed by the joint-contract mining operations of Murray and Roberts Cementation (M&RC) and platinum miner, Aquarius Platinum South Africa (AQPSA), were fired after embarking on an unprotected strike. Yet their only real infraction had been one of misplaced trust – in the union they had relied on to negotiate wage increases and better working conditions. The National Union of Mine Workers had reassured the men they had acquired a certificate to strike from the CCMA after initial discussions with mine management had failed. In reality, says Edward Sekoboto, a representative of the group, the union had signed a wage agreement with management without consulting its members – a blatant act of misrepresentation. Mine management pleaded with the men to return to work, but they stood their ground under the mistaken impression that the strike was legal, unaware their jobs were at risk. On the fourth day of the strike, a message was relayed to the mineworkers that they had been fired.
The following morning, outside the gates, the men gathered in the hope that all was not lost and their jobs would be spared. Certain select individuals were allowed to return to work. But 1 004 of the men were left unemployed. Evicted from the mine hostel within days of the strike, they were briefly housed in tents by the Rustenburg municipality before being relocated to the Circle Labour Hostel in Kroondal, where they subsist under appalling conditions. “Some go in search of food, only returning several months later,” says Edward. “There have been 189 men who have passed away living here. All diseases exist – since 2009 there is no one here who has seen a doctor.”
Edward and the 168 others that remain at the Circle Labour Hostel hold on in the hope that their voice will be heard. “We are waiting for our case to be finalised at the Constitutional Court, we all know – all of us including NUM and mine management – that the dismissal was unfair.” Meanwhile, conditions continue to deteriorate. Tuberculosis is rife; bodies lie weak and frail, unmedicated and hungry. Reliant on handouts, they have resorted to eating just about anything they can find in order to survive – including rodents and wild spinach. Gradually, the men of Circle Labour Hostel are losing hope.
Molebotsi Mokoena, 46, Machine Operator from Lesotho, Circle Labour Hostel, Kroondal, North West, Western Limb
Various case numbers relating to the misrepresentation of several thousand mine workers in 2009.
Circle Labour Hostel, Kroondal, North West, Western Limb