Aske’dh’im I if he was coming down with something or if was he cold. He told me that people were dying at Marikana
The moment Nombulelo Nqongophele realised her husband had died in Marikana, she decided to follow him. She drank half a bottle of pesticide at her home in Elliotdale, Eastern Cape.
On Friday, she sat on the koppie where her husband was shot by police – the same spot where he died of a bullet wound to the head.
“I try to avoid passing here because the memories are painful. I’ve never been here by myself. The last time was when the commission was conducting the inspections,” she said.
She stares into the distance near Nkaneng where her husband, Bongani (31), was killed with 16 other miners on the koppie. Behind her lies Scene 2, where police hunted down and killed 17 other miners as they hid between bushes and behind rocks.
“The wound is still very real, as if it just happened yesterday,” she said.
Having been married to Bongani for four years, Nombulelo remembers how, in the days leading up to the massacre, her husband called her in the mornings before going to the koppie and again late at night when he returned to his shack in Nkaneng.
“He told me they were on strike for a living wage. The last time I spoke to him was on Wednesday morning,” she said.
“He sounded different on the phone, as if he was shivering or cold. I asked him if he was coming down with something or if he was cold. He told me people were dying at Marikana. He said it was really bad there. He was scared.”
Nombulelo begged her husband to return to Elliotdale, but he told her that soldiers died in war.
“That was the last thing he said to me. That evening, he didn’t call as usual. When I tried to call him, his phone was off.”
That Thursday, her sister-in-law, Khanyisa, kept calling her to ask if she had spoken to her husband because no one could reach him.
As police were erecting their barbed wire barricade at Marikana just before 4pm, Nombulelo was walking to the river to do her family’s laundry. She wanted to keep her mind occupied and not worry about her husband. As the first volley wiped out 17 lives, she was still at the river. By the time she arrived home with wet clothes in her plastic washing basin, he was long dead.
Her sister-in-law again called to find out if she had heard any news.
“Khanyisa said she had heard that miners had been shot dead in Marikana, but no one knew if my husband was there. My mother-inlaw told me to go and bath in the other house.”
As she poured water into a washing basin, she heard screams from the main house.
“I knew at that time my husband was one of those who had died at the mine.”
She remembers holding on to the counter, but her knees were buckling. She slipped to the floor and wept.
“I couldn’t live without him; I knew that. I knew he was dead and I wanted to follow him.” She grabbed the pesticide bottle that was under the bed and drank from it. Her family rushed her to the doctor and for days she didn’t want to eat, or see anyone.
“I miss him every day and it is harder now that I have to work here where he worked and took his last breath.”
Nombulelo now works for Lonmin as a cleaner. Her seven-year-old daughter from Bongani is being cared for by her grandparents.
“Bongani was such a great husband and father. He loved me before I even met him. He saw my picture and knew we had to be together – and nothing but death could tear us apart,” she said.