Marikana up close and personal
‘Guys … there’s a body lying there. There in the grass.” He pointed. I moved closer. The man was lying face up with his arms spread out. For a moment, his position reminded me of an image of Christ nailed to the cross. I had a strong feeling that his body had been deliberately placed in this position. An animal skull had been placed above his head. Whoever left him there to bleed out in the open field wanted us to find him like that. Was this a warning of what they were capable of?
I didn’t want to get too close, fearing that my emotions would get in the way of my ability to report in the calm, confident manner my listeners were used to. Instinctively I slipped into journalist mode and started jotting down notes. Now I had a story. But I had a lump in my throat. I was overwhelmed by the fact that I had just seen a dead body. Someone had been killed in our midst. Someone’s life had come to an end and I still had no idea why.
Death has always terrified me and now I had come face to face with it. The police were nowhere in sight and the miners had disappeared. It was quiet, except for the flashing clicks of the cameras around me. The beautiful, lifegiving sun that I had admired just hours before had evidently also seen enough. It set behind the Magaliesberg mountains. Had the last daylight not helped us find the body, it could easily have gone unnoticed.
I called police spokesperson Dennis Adriao. He was unaware of our discovery, but promised to dispatch a team if I gave him the exact location. I couldn’t believe I was the one who reported the death. The last time I had seen a dead body was back in 2008. I shuddered at the thought. I was on my way to work when the office called and diverted me to a plane-crash scene just outside Rand Airport in Germiston. I was the first to arrive on the scene, before the paramedics, before the police. The plane had crashed in the middle of an open field, very similar, in fact, to the landscape in Marikana. Parts of the plane, which were still on fire, were scattered for metres around me. As I got closer I noticed that the charred bodies were stuck to the seats, which had been flung out of the plane. The air smelt like burnt meat. Hours after I had been there, police released the names of the deceased. They were all accountants who were on their way to a meeting in Lesotho.
I discovered that I knew one of the women on board. She had taught me extra maths and accounting in high school. While I was studying, she had also offered me parttime work in the catering company she was running at the time. I had become nauseous when I realised that she had been one of the bodies I had seen. I left immediately and passed the story on to another reporter.
Seeing that had been the most gruesome and harrowing moment of my life. Seeing dead bodies up close is never easy, no matter how many you come across when covering stories in a country plagued with so much violence, but it comes with the territory of being a hard news journalist. You have to just deal with it, and continue reporting as professionally as you can.
I drove towards the Lonmin entrance, where several police cars were parked. I rolled down my window.
“Hey, do you know that we found a body there in the veld?”
One of the cops approached me, seeming confused. He had the stereotypical mirrored police glasses and a moustache. He reminded me of Eddie Murphy in Beverly Hills Cop.
He bent down and placed his arms on the car, peering into my driver’s seat window.
“I’ve phoned Captain Dennis Adriao. Just wanted to know if you guys were aware.”
“No, we had no idea. Listen, I’ll start heading that way, but give me your number. Perhaps we can keep in contact.” “Sure, give me a missed call so I know it’s you.” I gave him my number and drove off. I hadn’t asked for his name, which was silly of me, but I knew what he looked like. My phone rang. I saved his number as “Mr Shades”. Hopefully he could give me some information in future. That’s how it worked, isn’t it? I scratch your back, you scratch mine?
Soon after, I found myself getting ready to do a live telephonic crossing to Talk Radio 702. I held my phone, staring down at my notes as I heard afternoon anchor Tara Meaney reading the headline: “The death toll from violent clashes at Lonmin’s Marikana mine has now risen to 10.”
Seeing dead bodies up close is never easy, no matter how many you come across when covering stories
Jacana; 220 pages;