The scorching heat in Marikana, North West was no deterrent from the chill that made its way through the land where 34 mineworkers were killed by police on the 16th August 2012. Someone who has been forced to live with the tragedy every day since is Pumeza Swelindqwo.
When Swelindqwo was forced into marriage at the age of 15 in 2009 in the age old tradition of Ukuthwala she thought that it would, in the very least, be a life time union between herself and Mabiya Swelindqwo, the man she was betrothed to, one of the 34 who was killed on the 16th August 2012.
“I didn’t want to get married, he was 26 -years old at the time but we grew to love each other,” she remembers.
Originally from Dutywo in the Eastern Cape the pair moved to Gauteng after they were married. Mabiya got a job as a miner at Lonmin unaware that he, along with another group of miners would, in just over two years, lose their lives.
“I was two months pregnant and we had another child who was just over a year and seven-months old when he was killed,” she explains in Xhosa. Her eyes are locked on the Wonderkop, on Lonmin grounds, in Rusternburg known now as “the Koppie” as she describes how her husband was “shot like an animal” in an effort to afford his family a better life.
She recalls the days of the strike: “I would watch the strike on TV, he was not coming home but I never saw him among the strikers on TV. He was not getting paid and we were going hungry but they [strikers] said they were doing it for better wages…” Then the day which South Africans never anticipated, 16th of August changed Pumeza’s and many other’s lives for good.
Pumeza was called to identify the body of her late husband at Doves mortuary in Rustenburg. She gestures at her torso as she describes that she was only allowed to see his face because of the bullet wounds he had sustained on the rest of his body. “I saw his face. It was black and swollen and had a bullet hole on his forehead.”
She continues: “They showed me the post-mortem and the document showed that the bullet hole on his head had come through his neck.”
Since the death of her husband life for Pumeza has not been easy - but has been liveable. “All I received was his provident fund.” Lonmin provided her and other widows with jobs as miners last year in October. She is contracted to the Rowland Shaft. “The mines are not made for women; every day I go underground, I fear that I won’t make it back out, I just don’t know why they have put us there but work is work.” She spoke about the fact that she does not earn enough to live with her children. “After Mabiya passed away I was forced to send them back to the Eastern Cape, they can’t even visit me.”
Now 21-years old and living in a hostel like settlement with other female miners, Pumeza is uncertain of her future. Marriage brings thoughts of sadness to her mind. She prefers to focus on getting herself out of the hole and creating a family unit for herself and her two young children.
Pumza was at an event to commemorate the slain miners which was held at the Koppie in Rustenburg. The event was hosted by Association of Mineworkers and Construction Union which has called for the 16th of August to be recognised as a public holiday.