One with the miners of Marikana
In a small church building in Wonderkop, near Marikana, a reporter put a question to a panel of representatives of striking Lonmin mine workers which included Anglican Bishop Jo Seoka and Congress of Traditional Leaders’ Chief Patekile Holomisa.
It was September, and the strike was dragging on into its sixth week. Holomisa and Seoka had stepped in to mediate in the impasse between Lonmin and its unrepentant striking workforce.
A day before the press conference, which took place under the glare of the crucifix by the altar, the body of a National Union of Mineworkers (NUM) shopsteward had been found in an open field where the miners met daily near the Nkaneng informal settlement.
He had allegedly been killed by the striking workers.
A reporter asked what the workers and their representatives made of the killing.
Seoka, dressed in his trademark clergyman’s collar and purple shirt took the question, saying something to the effect that: “We are peaceful.”
By using the inclusive “we”, instead of “they”, Seoka had crossed the fine line between independent mediator to that of identifying himself with the mine workers.
The mine workers, who were feeling the effects of going for a month without pay and still reeling from the effects on the shooting on August 16, seemed to see in Seoka, a man of God who would in some way, help to bring an end to their suffering.
When he spoke at their meetings in Nkaneng and at the Wonderkop stadium, giving report backs on negotiations with their employer, they listened and were quick to chastise those who dared to even cough during his speeches.
In those speeches, Seoka didn’t come across as an orator who sought to work up his audience.
Instead, he spoke in a calm, measured voice, sticking only to the facts, while constantly referring to “us”, meaning he was one with the mine workers.
Yesterday (Friday), after a gruelling two days of cross examination by layers at the Marikana Commission of Inquiry, Seoka told the hearing he was still haunted by the phone call he received from one of the striking mineworkers on August 16.
Seoka, in his first appearance before the commission two weeks ago, said he had received a call around 4pm on the day, in which someone said to him in isiXhosa: “Bishop where are you? We are being killed by the police.”
Seoka said he suspected the call came from “the man in the green blanket”, Mgcineni Noki, who he had met for the first and last time a few hours earlier when he visited Marikana with the aim of facilitating negotiations between Lonmin and the stikers.
But he said he wasn’t exactly sure if it indeed came from Noki, who was shot at 3.53pm that afternoon.
“I can hear that voice all the time. Can you imagine what that is doing to me? I still hear the voice even as I testify here,” he told the commission on Friday.
He said he had approached evidence leaders to provide psychologists for those testifying, and that he had also approached the Psychology Services SA to provide their services to the commission.
Seoka painted a picture of an emotionally and physically scarred community that had been forgotten and left to deal with the after effects of August 16 on its own.
“Most of the survivors are limping, very traumatised, still nursing wounds,” he said.
He said at lunch time on Thursday, he had been approached by a man who was in the company of his wife and daughter.
“He was not coherent, asking if I could help with the problems they are still facing. But he was devastated, traumatised, confused, looking for help,” Seoka said.
Seoka said the koppie where the miners died should be declared a monument and that the country should use the Marikana shooting as a way of finding lasting solutions that would make the country a better place for all.
On conclusion of his cross examination, Seoka asked the commission to observe a minute’s silence for the miners who died on August 16. People in the auditorium of the Rustenburg Civic Centre rose and bowed their heads in silence, in honour of the fallen.