A scene from a movie we never wanted to see
We stood around, waiting for the prone men to jump to their feet like actors at the end of a successful take. They didn’t move. The police closed in on those still, slumped forms. Officers dragged some along the ground, put their boots against others and shook them. The men on the ground were searched for weapons. Police built a pile of sharp objects pulled from pockets.
I asked a colleague to zoom in on some of the pictures on his camera.
The horror jumped to life. One of the men on the ground was missing a large chunk of his head. Blood was trickling from others’ heads.
They were never getting up again.
A group of furious journalists, professional masks slipping, turned on police officers standing nearby.
“You have just killed people! What have you people done? How could you?” I screamed.
They didn’t respond. They were pacing, swearing, sweat pouring down their faces. Some were coughing, screaming for water. They had misread the wind direction and a barrage of tear gas directed at the miners blew back into their faces.
Sporadic gunfire still sounded. I heard police officers screaming orders. Marikana was burning.
Three days earlier, an hour after I arrived in the North West town, two police officers and three miners were killed in a skirmish between strikers and cops.
Then four more died: two Lonmin security guards and two miners who’d apparently been ambushed on their way to work.
Amid the chaos, a group of journalists defied the police and Lonmin’s stern warnings. We went to the koppie populated by heavily armed striking miners and asked for interviews. Once we’d convinced them we weren’t cops, they agreed.
As we left, we discovered another body. Isaiah Twala, a National Union of Mineworkers shop steward, had been hacked to death. He was probably killed while we sat with the strikers on the other side of the koppie. – Poloko Tau is City Press’ Limpopo correspondent