Mavis 16 Days Of Activism: Meet Thumeka Magwangqana , from Marikana – South Africa
My life changed by what happened here in Marikana on 16 August 2012. That day women got together and headed towards the mine but we were too late. We supported the striking workers demands, those were our men and our children but we realised too late what was going to happen. We had no experience of massacres in the past like Bisho and Sharpeville.
We are very sad that we didn’t do something in time. That day when we approached the koppie, there was lots of dust and chaos. A journalist came to tell us that people are dying there. There was nothing we could do, so we formed a circle and prayed. We stayed there a long time until strikers came and told us that it was not safe and we must leave.
We were very angry and went to the police that same day to ask who sent them to come and kill here in Marikana. The police wouldn’t answer our question but promised to check with their seniors and bring an answer the next day. They never did come back to us.
I am now chair of Sikhala Sonke, a women’s group formed after the massacre. I have replaced Primrose Sonti, the founding chair, who is now in parliament. Women got together at first to provide support to the strikers immediately after the massacre. Many of the strikers feared returning to their rooms so they slept out in the veld. We went to local shops and asked for food donations and used funds given to us by some organisations to buy food for these men.
We had a sense that something needs to be done, we had to tell people what happened at Marikana… that workers did not fight with the police. We travelled the country in the aftermath, speaking the truth about the massacre. Still now, we continue to seek out the truth on Marikana. Every day at least 10 of us travel to go to the Marikana Commission. We feel a responsibility to bear witness to it and to see where this ends.
Initially Sikhala Sonke had a membership of about 54 women. Many thought we would get something, that we would get money and dropped out when they discovered it was not about this. There are many that have not participated for a long time that we don’t consider our members any longer. We are now 36 women, two of whom are not here at the moment. They returned to their rural home during this five month long strike. Many women did this because there was no money for food and some are still yet to return.
As women living here we supported the recent strike, we even marched to management at the mine to say that they must give in to the demands of workers and end the strike because it was affecting the whole community. It was very bad, there was no money for electricity, we had no food but we shared what we had when we could, even if it was not enough. We were very grateful for the support we received, it was so desperately needed.
As Sikhala Sonke we had the idea some time back that as women we need to do something to improve our lives. We have secured a piece of land which is in an area where there is no electricity and no water and have negotiated with Lonmin that they provide us with a properly built structure that will be a day care centre. We have agreed on the plans, they will also provide us with services and I think they will also fence the area. Lonmin has organised for four of us to receive training for one year to run the day care centre. We also plan to have a food garden at the site and some of us have gone on a short course on how to keep a garden and animals.
The strike has firmed our resolve to get something going for women here. Our experience when the men were on strike, was that we all had nothing. The need for women to have alternative sources of income to keep the family going was evident. As women we got to experience the reality that we all face, ‘one day the man I am with will go home and then I will suffer’. Sikhala Sonke needs to be a chance for women to get some skills and to be able to work for themselves so that they don’t have to depend on someone else.
I have lived with being disregarded my whole life. My mother was not married and my brother and I are not recognised by my father’s family. My father’s children from a different mother are a rich family in the Eastern Cape, they have nice houses and cars, they are working and are even politicians. My brother at least has an education and has made a life for himself as a mechanic. I dropped out of school when I had my first child at fourteen. I have tried to catch up, first doing ABET after my second child and then going through to Grade 12 under ABET when I came here to Marikana.
The father of my first born daughter, Lunka, was a boy that I grew up with. I didn’t love him, we were very young. So I raised Lunka on my own but the father’s family especially the boy’s grandmother supported the child. He went to work at the mine and when he came back home for visits I would go and stay there. The father of my second child, my daughter Zinzi provided no support but his mother was very good to me and she took the child and said I could go and look for work.
I left my two children in 1993 in the care of women in their respective fathers’ homes and followed a boyfriend who was a miner in Klerksdorp. I thought I would marry him but I soon saw his true colours. He was sleeping around and he always didn’t have money. He was borrowing money from lenders that he couldn’t pay back. So I left him and found work. I had a sewing machine and made a living mostly sewing for people.
I heard there was good business in Rustenburg and so came to the area in 1999 and shortly after I met a man that worked at the mine here in Marikana. It didn’t work out so I decided to leave him but I stayed on here. My daughters were grown up, Lunka had failed her Grade 12 exam and did not want to repeat, she wanted to look for work. So she came to live with me in 2001 and found work at an informal public phone service, getting paid very little, about R400 a month. She is now married to a man from Mozambique who works as an instructor at the mine and she lives in Marikana West in a proper house with her husband and two sons.
Zinzi also failed Grade 12 and came to live with me here. Zinzi found working a shop but she put an application in to work at the mine. After passing the tests, she worked underground with explosives and in 2012, she was also on strike. She now works full time for AMCU. There are quite a number of women that work at the mine, underground and in the offices. They are in a better position because they earn wages but they face the same situation we do in the community but they are afraid to speak out.
I earn a stipend of R1000 from CSVR for counselling work but our home is mainly supported by Zinzi and we live here in this room together with her daughter who was born here. My granddaughter has visited my home in the Eastern Cape but she doesn’t want to ever live there. This is what she knows now.
I have had a boyfriend that I have been with since 2007. He is a good man but he can’t be so good because he is someone else’s husband. He is a father figure to my children and I have someone to talk to about the big things in my life. We don’t live together and I don’t take care of household chores for him. He helps me a bit and I just say thanks for what he gives but I don’t demand too much from him.
I am lucky that I have a family that supports each other and that I am able to be active in the community. There is very poor representation of our people and when I see how political parties claim to represent us, this drives me into action. We have democracy for all but out government is only there for half, saying one thing and doing another. We were promised a better life for all but it is only better for some. People are dying every day because of what we have not been able to achieve. What I know is we are still living in shacks and life is not better.
At the memorial service in 2012, Minister Thandi Modise said that this place would not be called Marikana anymore and from this day forward it would be called Kanana, which means the ‘promised land’. She said we were going to get everything we need. But still we suffer. Nothing has improved for us, our roads are terrible and our living conditions are awful. Many of us have no access to electricity and water so they have to live in the dark and walk to neighbouring areas to collect water. We live with the stench of sewage in our homes from the pits we have to use as toilets in our yards. When it rains we have to deal with the mud in our homes and the leaks in our roofs.
When I think about what I want, it is what many before me wanted. It is what is in the Freedom Charter, that ‘There Shall be Houses, Security and Comfort’. I want people to know that they are safe, like this people are not safe. When there are houses for all people and we don’t have to live like this in shacks, when we are able to provide for ourselves and our families, this will be our freedom.
Please click here to read more about our series of articles on the Marikana Women.