I was born in Johannesburg and spent my first nine years in the mining town of Rustenburg. At that time it was a small town, or at least that’s the way I remember it. We spent weekends at the Milky Lane or at braais with other families we were friends with. My dad was involved in mining, and so were most of the dad’s of my friends. The dads would drink a lot at these braais, case on case of castle. It was part of what we did as families. Children played while parents drank and had fun.
As children we weren’t that bothered what the adults were doing. I remember one party at our house where we drank from teddy bear shaped frozen juices and ran around until we were exhausted.I remember others where we played in the street with our bikes and roller skates. It was safe to do that then. On a Friday, we’d get R5 pocket money and we would walk to the cafe. I’d spend mine on fizzers and Wilson’s toffees, but would always save R1 towards a lucky packet. I remember going over to our friend’s houses to play video games when they first came out – hours and hours of mario brothers. There were no other demands on us except to be children, and to enjoy it.
In Rustenburg the winter mornings are really cold – they felt freezing to me. I remember waking up in the dark to go to school whilst my mom made Jungle Oats for us. We could choose to wear long pants or a skirt with long socks and I always chose the long grey pants with the yellow shirt we had to wear. It was always the moms who used to fetch us from school. By lunch time it was warmer. The air is dry there pretty much all year round. It made your nose sore and your throat thirsty.
Fast forward twenty years and I watched the footage of thousands of men sitting on a koppie not far from where I grew up. They had been there for three days, and I think that maybe because I knew what was coming, my mind kept wandering to when last they’d had something to eat, whether they had had something to drink, and what their families were thinking whilst they were there. I wondered if the blankets they have kept them warm enough at night on the koppie – they looked to be the thick kind, but really, what warmth could you have when you knew a whole system, a whole government that supposedly represented your equality, had left you out in the cold? That type of cold is internal, and I wondered whether it turned to dedication to the cause or bitterness.
I don’t own a TV – I haven’t for many years. So, when the news of Marikana came to me via social media and the internet, I realise now that I just couldn’t, didn’t, understand the scale of what had happened. I saw images, but like all still images they don’t convey the life that was in the body before it was gunned down. All you see is the corpse – the spirit no longer there.
In that cold church where I watched Miners Shot Down, it was the first time I saw that business and government colluded to supress voices who asked for the type of equality we should have. The type of equality where people’s labour is considered valuable, and so are their lives. It was the first time I saw the miners alive.
When the man said that he realised after he had been gunned down and paralysed, that he was just doing it for money, that he hadn’t said goodbye to his family, I wept. Because I know that those men in the offices, the ones who gave the orders, they get to talk to their families every day. They are the dads I grew up with. And they don’t have a care in the world, other than whether their beers are cold.
I hate how we’ve dropped the word ‘massacre’ and now simply refer to it as Marikana. This equality we have now, it makes me sick.