Marikana up close and per­sonal

CityPress - - Voices - This is an edited ex­tract from Re­port­ing from the Front­line

‘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

Pub­lished by

Jacana; 220 pages;

R200

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