Mbulelo Noki slowly moved his fingers over the chilling newspaper image of bullet-riddled bodies of workers killed near Lonmin’s Marikana mine, but his eyes remained fixed on the man lying face-down.
One of those bodies has become known as “the man in the green blanket”.
Moving his eyes to a throng of police officers with their guns pointed over the dead men, Noki shook his head. It was still hard to accept what happened.
“Take this [news]paper and throw it away. I can’t take this any more,” said Noki, 33.
The man in the green blanket was his younger brother. His name was Mgcineni Noki. He was a 30-year-old husband and father and described by his brother as a “pillar of strength” to his family.
Mgcineni was one of the leaders of the striking Lonmin Marikana mineworkers who paid with his life when he was hit by a police bullet on that fateful day on August 16. Thirty-three other men also died.
To thousands of men who had occupied the koppie in Wonderkop for days, demanding that management meet them over their demand for R12 500 salary, Mgcineni was a leader.
For Noki, he was more than just a brother. Although younger, he was a “beacon of hope” to him.
He described him as a “born leader” who led wherever he went, including football. He played well in any position and had made a good captain for many of the teams he had played for since school. His soccer skills earned Mgcineni, a staunch Orlando Pirates fan, the nickname “Mambush” and this was the name by which he was also known to fellow miners and friends.
Noki, who is himself a Lonmin employee, last spoke to Mgcineni on August 9 when he went to Impala Mines to arrange for the body of their cousin, who died of an illness, to be taken home. He is now arranging Mgcineni’s funeral.
Noki went to the koppie on the Monday before the shooting, hoping to talk to Mgcineni, but his brother was standing at the front, addressing the thousands of men. He went home without seeing him, but asked Mgcineni’s wife to convince him to abandon the strike and the koppie so he could help him.
Mgcineni’s wife was to go to Marikana that weekend. But it would be too late.
“[Mgcineni] could not bury our cousin… and his wife didn’t get a chance to persuade him to leave the [koppie]. He was killed before she arrived in Marikana,” he said.
Noki’s worst fears were confirmed three days after the shooting when, at the mortuary, he found his brother’s name among those killed.
His expression changed as he spoke of his brother’s bullet-riddled body and “crushed” face.
“His body was riddled with bullets and he had a big gash around the eye. His left leg was broken and it looked to me like he had been run over by something heavy,” he said.
“[Mgcineni] was brave but… a pacifier. All he wanted to do was [for] workers’ issues to be addressed. He died while fighting for other workers’ rights.
“It has been said that no one in South Africa will be hanged. But for police to just pounce on innocent people and kill them, to me it’s not different from driving them to the gallows and hanging them without any trial and conviction. These people were just sitting on the [koppie] asking for attention to be given to their grievances.
“I have, in one month, lost [my brother and cousin]. The three of us were very close. I am now left on my own and feeling very weak without Mambush.”
Noki said he had convinced Mgcineni to leave Carletonville mines in 2004 because “gold mines were less safe than the platinum mines”.
“In his first year (at Lonmin), Mgcineni was promoted from a general worker to a winch operator and then a rock drill operator. Obviously his bosses saw the leadership qualities in him, which is why the striking miners also saw him as a leader. He was destined for bigger things with his leadership qualities. But being in the forefront as a leader has now cost him his life.”
Noki believed his brother was targeted by police because he had been in negotiations with them about the mineworkers dispersing, while urging them to get managers to talk to the strikers.
In Marikana, the striking workers have lost a leader, but back in Mqanduli, the Noki family are preparing to bury a beloved son, father, friend, teammate and “young head of the family”.