On 14 August, 2014, nearly two years after the Marikana Massacre, 19 of the widows and family members of the strikers killed at Marikana held lively, moving, and powerful conversation with a full auditorium at the University of Johannesburg library auditorium. The event marked the presentation the book Justice, Redress and Restitution: Voices of Widows of the Marikana Massacre - a collection artwork and personal narratives by widows and family members attending the Marikana Commission of Inquiry, published by Khulumani Support Group.
Coming half-way through Women’s Month, and two days before the second anniversary of the Marikana Massacre, the evening turned into a show-piece for the dignity, vibrancy, and human resilience of these women whose lives were smashed by the Marikana massacre. Chairing the event, UJ’s Professor Peter Alexander moved away from the formal panel presentation planned, and opened the floor to questions and discussion with the women and the workshop facilitators. It provided a rare occasion for academics to hear, and interrogate, the on-going, lived experiences of one of the watermark events of our recent history.
The women spoke, forcefully, about Lonmin, police and government, as responsible for the massacre. They talked about the impact on their children (“My child asks, every Christmas and Easter when men come back from the mines, when is my daddy coming home?”). They told about how they heard about their loved ones’ deaths, days after the event from other strikers who were on the mountain and who phoned them a their homes – neither Lonmin, nor the government, took responsibility for informing them immediately.
The widows produced the work in the book in workshops facilitated by Khulumani Support Group, while they were attending the Marikana Commission of Inquiry. Khulumani aimed to provide space for those most affected by the massacre to explore, and communicate, about their own experiences. Our media and society most often portrays widows and women family members as “silent witnesses” to disasters that impact on their lives, gagged by mourning and helplessness.
Khulumani was originally formed twenty years ago to assist survivors and victims of apartheid human rights violations to speak to the Truth and Reconciliation Commission. At the UJ event, Khulumani talked about their long journey with the Marikana women: from first contacts through family members of killed and injured strikers who were already Khulumani members, to the parallels facing survivors of the Marikana massacre and the Khulumani experience of survivors of apartheid violations. Khulumani National Organiser, NomaRussia Bonase linked the damages of our apartheid past to the massacre: with the unchanged migrant labour system, the demand for living wages, and the use of force against those at the grassroots.
The outcome of these workshops – on display at the UJ library -- are stunning. Asked about the power of the artwork on display, done by women who had little previous experience of visual art-making, artist Judy Seidman (one of the Khulumani facilitators) responded: “These works are powerful because they speak to our humanity – in the face of the most damaging blows to their lives, these women can still imagine and create beauty and resonance.”.
“Anyway I won’t give up. . . . I will put on my husband’s boots to fight for my human rights.” (Agnes Thelejane, widow of Thabiso Johannes Thelejane, one of the 34 miners killed at Marikana two years ago – quoted in the book.)