Shadow of Man in the Green Blanket
Police have so far portrayed Marikana’s ‘Man in the Green Blanket’ as a bloodthirsty warrior itching for a fight. But this week’s proceedings tell a different story, writes Lucas Ledwaba
The “Man in the Green Blanket” has been mentioned during the Marikana Commission of Inquiry many more times than any of the other 43 people who died during the violent Lonmin strike in August.
He appears in police videos flighted before the commission, playing a leading role in negotiations with police officers.
In one of the videos, shortly before an incident that led to the killing of two police officers and three civilians, the Man in the Green Blanket is seen defying a police order to disarm.
Speaking in Fanagalo, he tells the police that they should instead escort the group of armed miners to a koppie.
Later that day, when he refused to tell them his name, the police dubbed him “Green”.
This “for police operational purposes”, it has emerged. His name was Mgcineni Noki, but throughout the inquiry, he has been referred to by his nickname.
The police have told the commission Noki challenged them to a mortal duel, saying officers should enter into a death pact with the miners.
But this week, Anglican Bishop Jo Seoka painted a different picture of the man.
Seoka was called as a witness by Advocate Dali Mpofu, who represents the 300 people injured or arrested during the shootings on August 16 that left 34 people dead.
Seoka, who is also the chairperson of the SA Council of Churches (SACC), said he arrived at the koppie, accompanied by the organisation’s general secretary Mautji Pataki, in the early afternoon on the day of the shootings.
He said he decided to get involved to try to resolve the strike after reading about it in the media.
He said he was met at the koppie by a delegation of about eight or nine men, away from the bigger crowd gathered at the koppie.
He said he recognised the Man in the Green Blanket as the one who seemed to be the leader.
“The person who spoke to us and gave us instructions as to what we must do for them was the man in that crowd with a green blanket,” said Seoka.
“The Man in the Green Blanket asked us to go to the mine offices and ask for umqashi (the employer), and ask umqashi to come to the koppie to address them,” he said.
He said the men asked for water and food. He then left for the Lonmin offices, where police had set up an operations centre to coordinate efforts to disperse the crowd.
Later, on the way back to Pretoria, Seoka said, he received a phone call which he told the commission still haunts him.
Someone said: “Bishop, where are you? We are being killed by the police!” Seoka said he could hear noises and shouting on the other side of the line, which went dead.
Seoka said he suspected the call could have come from the Man in the Green Blanket.
Lonmin lawyer Schalk Burger SC put it to Seoka that, shortly after the bishop had met Noki, the Man in the Green Blanket approached a police nyala and said he could see the police were preparing for war.
Burger said Noki had approached a Lieutenant Colonel Macintosh and told him: “We must sign a paper so that the world can see how we will kill one another today.”
Burger asked Seoka how, in just 40 minutes, Noki “puts aside his peace pipe and he’s on a warpath now”.
Seoka said he did not know, but Burger insisted that he must explain.
“I can tell you, under oath, the Man in the Green Blanket, the one I spoke to, was one of the most peaceful people in that whole group,” Seoka said.
“He never showed any hostility towards us, he was open to hearing what we were saying and he spoke to us very gently. I can tell you that 100 times under oath,” Seoka replied.
After the shooting at 3.53pm on August 16, the Man in the Green Blanket became known as Body B at scene one.
He has since been identified as Noki, a 30-year-old man from the Eastern Cape village of Thwalikhulu near Mthatha.
In September, City Press reported in its Faces of Marikana series that Noki’s sister Nolufefe remembered him as “the one who would calm us down and ask that we always keep the peace amongst us”.
But his cousin Mbulelo Noki, who was also present during the strike at the koppie, hinted then that something could have been different about him when they last spoke three days before his death.
He said: “He was different, I didn’t like the person I saw. We were supposed to go home to our cousin’s funeral but he didn’t even want to speak about it. He was taking his role as the strike leader very seriously.”
Perhaps by the time the commission concludes its work next year, the world will know whether Noki was a bloodthirsty warrior who relished a fight with the police, or simply a peaceful man pushed to the brink by his circumstances.