The rocky hill of Wonderkop had become the focus of the battle for a living wage, and perhaps it was inevitable that it would come to this. One of the miners gathered in the early morning light said, "People are shot; people are dying because of money.
"You risk your life underground for too little; just R4000. Every time we go underground, we are not sure we will come back."
The miners articulate that either Lonmin or the government must come and sort it out. They seem to cling to a belief that the government does not know how little they earn, or how difficult the work is.
The miners dismiss claims of inter union rivalry as the cause of the problems. There are few, if any, miners who belong to the new union, AMCU. Most, if not all, are NUM, or not union members at all. "Most of us here are still paying NUM dues," said one man.
They say that AMCU is only represented at the neighbouring Karee mine, also a Lonmin asset. Here workers left NUM en masse after a failed strike, where they say NUM failed to represent their interests at all. Many of the strikers were suspended and others fired. "After the Karee strike, things changed. It was a failure and many left NUM."
At Marikana, the strikers, led by the drillers, said that they were forced to strike as Lonmin management repeatedly failed to arrive at meetings they had promised to attend. NUM did nothing for them, they claim. So they decided to come to the mountain, Wonderkop, as "it is not mine property and the police would not kill us here."
Yet the bloody strike, with two security guards and two policemen killed by miners, as well as some six miners killed, paved the road to the hell of Thursday afternoon.
One of the shocked miners spelt it out. "Nobody expected to lose their lives here; this is too much. If management would agree to increase our wages, we would go back to work tomorrow."
This column appeared in The Daily Maverick.