The Star: ‘Man in the green blanket’ mourned

‘Man in the green blanket’ mourned

by Poloko Tau

Johannesburg – One of the most vocal protesters shot dead in the Marikana massacre – known as The Man in the Green Blanket – has been laid to rest.

Atop the rolling mountains covered in green shrubbery in the Thwalikhulu section of Mqanduli in the Eastern Cape, the weekend saw low-tempo, sad songs pouring out of grieving souls.

In a hut nearby, a group of crestfallen women surrounded his widow, their tired eyes fixed on the coffin next to her. A coffin holding a bullet-riddled body.

Outside, a group of men mournfully sang Ingwenyama ise khaya. Softly clapping their hands, they huddled into a squatting position.

These were some of the striking Lonmin mineworkers who had come to bid farewell to the man they regarded a hero and symbol of bravery, as borne out by their song, which means “the lion is now home”.

Gunshots were fired in the air before the funeral service, which began on Saturday, with the striking men singing, dancing and chanting slogans outside the deceased’s house.

The gunshots were a sign of a hero’s send-off, particularly for one who had died by a bullet.

Shortly after the massacre, the dead man was identified by The Star as “the man in the green blanket”. He had been a source of information before the attack – the blanket he wore draped around his shoulders being his identifying feature.

It took a while before his body, which lay marked by a number in the government mortuary, was eventually identified as that of Mgcineni Noki.

Affectionately known as “Mambush” because of his soccer skills, Noki was among the 34 killed when police opened fire with automatic rifles on striking miners on August 16.

His body was among a group that lay scattered around a kraal in the Nkaneng informal settlement at Wonderkop.

Noki was one of the striking miners’ leaders. Police are in possession of video footage shot before the massacre in which Noki was seen negotiating with police officers to escort them to the mountain where other men were sitting.

Speaking for the men, Noki had explained to the police that they were not fighting anyone, even though they were armed.

It is not clear what happened while police escorted the group, but a while later, two police officers were hacked to death, and three striking miners were shot dead in retaliation.

Noki and other leaders faced the police a few times thereafter and asked them to get the Lonmin management to give attention to their demands.

He had repeatedly shouted at the top of his voice in communicating with the police, demanding that the mine management hike their monthly wages to R12 500.

The men defied orders to give up their weapons, including pangas, knobkieries, homemade swords as well as sharp-pointed steel rods and other implements.

Workers made it clear they were not going to disperse until Lonmin’s bosses came to the mountain to address them.

Amid reports and statements alleging that Noki was knocked down by a police Nyala, pictures showed him lying face down and motionless after the shooting. He remained in the same position for at least two hours.

There have also been allegations that he was loaded in a Nyala, although he had been seen lying among the dead with blood trickling from his head.

Droning, mumbling and exclamations of shock could be heard throughout the white marquee as villagers listened to the chilling details of how miners were mowed down by the police.

Back in Marikana, Mambush is widely regarded as the face representing both the plight of the striking workers and that of the massacre.

In one of the isiXhosa songs sung during the funeral, the miners asked: “How do we find peace when the police have killed Mambush?”

Messages defiantly proclaiming their refusal to return to work were printed on their white and yellow t-shirts, which bore Noki’s face.

As they spoke of Noki’s leadership qualities, workers said his death and the blood of others would be in vain if they agreed to go back to work without receiving the R12 500 pay they were demanding.

“Mambush was young by age but a great leader who was firm and encouraged us to be immovable on what we want.

“In that spirit, we’re not going back to work until [Lonmin] has agreed to our demand,” said mineworker Tholakele Mbhele.

As for the community, they believe Noki’s death and the deaths of those killed with him must bring change to his village, family and colleagues as well as the mining sector in general.

A villager and one of those who saw Noki grow into a great footballer, Phangiwonga Ngakanani, blamed the government for what he described as “callous” killings.

“If you [government] really feel sorry for what you did, because it is clear government wanted people to die, then say after this day, Noki’s village will get electricity and that we won’t fetch water from the river any more,” he said.

“Why is it that these defenceless people were killed when they were only asking for some more money on their salaries? This thing has cost this village a great footballer, a promising role model and leader.

“His blood must bring change in his village and mines around the country.”

As Noki’s coffin was lowered into the grave, his grief-stricken widow, Noluvuyo, sat watching while holding one of their five children, Asive.

While the striking miners’ struggle continues for what they believe “Mambush” died for, Noki’s family now begin another chapter in their lives: surviving without the man who was a breadwinner, brother, father and husband. And a good friend to many others, too.