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Alan Paton Award shortlist: Greg Marinovich talks about his book Murder at Small Koppie: The Real Story of the Marikana Massacre

Published in the Sunday Times

Murder at Small KoppieMurder at Small Koppie: The Real Story of the Marikana Massacre
Greg Marinovich (Penguin Books)

How did you go about the research for the book?
I was writing up a piece after a visit to the Koppie that was at the heart of the Lonmin strike when a photojournalist friend called to tell me that the police had opened fire with live rounds. I had no idea of the number of miners killed and weighed driving to Marikana before nightfall against getting my story in. I chose to write. When my wife and I watched the video footage later that night, we began sobbing. Thus began a journey into what happened and why. My ‘uncovering’ of the second massacre site changed the narrative that the police cover-up had been dictating. The mining community of Nkaneng shantytown knew about Small Koppie, yet the police and the state gulled the dozens of journalists there that day, and the dozens that descended later, into a narrative that misdirected their focus.

What prompted you to write a book about the Marikana massacre in South African?
This blatant cover up by those with power impelled me to keep telling the miners’ story. The propaganda had to be contradicted. The complexity of the lives of the miners and the extent of the forces trying to suppress the truth drove me to keep digging. And while the Daily Maverick was willing to run many thousands of words, it needed to be pulled into a book that could make sense of it all.

What was the most difficult part of writing it?
The most difficult part was finding out the ‘unknown unknowns’. It was really the investigations by lawyers and investigators in and around the Commission of Inquiry that allowed me to get information and insights I would never have had a clue about. My biggest frustration was the refusal by any of the Marikana cops to speak directly to me, even though one gave some information through a third party.

You write that the struggle of the poor is invisibility. In what way did Marikana make them visible?
We, the non-poor, only notice the poor when they manage to break through the invisibility shield that society sustains. That breach is achieved by transgression – when someone violates our space or property, or when a community stands up, like at Marikana. Typically, we react with panic. Yet most of us tend not to reach for the ADT panic button as our pockets are continually rifled by the robber barons of big business and political elites, white capital and tenderpreneurs. Only when people began to die at Marikana, did we take note – initially because the markets were worried about Lonmin’s stocks. Therein lies the contradiction: miners, spaza shop owners, laundry women and pit toilet diggers depend on Lonmin more than the rich investors do, yet their needs are not taken into account. This despite their votes being the currency that enables the patronage and crony capital that government depends on to extend their rule.

The Marikana massacre is a rip in the fabric of a society we thought we were mending. What do you feel is the biggest lesson we should learn about what happened?
The truth behind what happened at Marikana has rent a hole through our illusion of a just society, of South Africans as a lamp for the world. Marikana and its aftermath have revealed the venality of our leaders, the grubbiness within the swankiest boardrooms, the dull, uncaring gaze of the average South African upon cold-blooded executions by the forces of law, murder by the desperate and grasping, corruption flaunted without shame. We need to reclaim our soul.

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