Given Phori was seated at the back of a bus carrying 50 mineworkers when it was petrol bombed en route to work at the Modikwa platinum mine near Burgersfort in Limpopo, in April.
“I heard people screaming. I was still trying to figure out what was going on, until I saw fire. People were stomping on each other,” he explains.
Six miners died in the incident and others were injured. According to miners and community members from Driekop, this was not the first time mineworkers have been threatened with violence on their way to work.
Speaking to New Frame, some claimed that on several previous occasions, their bus had to turn around because it was under threat.
Steve Kgwete, sits on a black plastic chair in his garage as he relates his memory of the incident. “On that day, there were no people barricading the road. I was sitting in the middle row of the bus. I did not notice anything until I saw fire and I heard screams,” he says as he slowly rubs his left arm.
The 54-year-old has been taking the bus since he started working at the mine in 2003. He says that in previous years when there were incidents of intimidation, the mine provided security to protect the workers. But when the threats died down, the security stopped coming.
Since the incident in April, security, both outside and inside the bus, has been increased. “They demand your ID and clock card before you can step on to the bus. If there is no security, we refuse to leave,” he says.
“The community has been complaining about a lack of jobs,” says one community member who asked not to be named. “There are lot of outsiders here, people from Sekhukhune, Transkei … they come here and take our jobs, while we, those who were born here, are unemployed. We are fighting for that as a community,” he says.
He claims that the community did not burn the bus. “We are not fighting to burn buses. We are fighting for jobs. We are hungry.”
Phori recalls that when the bus was petrol bombed the passengers kicked out the windows to escape and, in the commotion, he fell down and bumped his head. “I was wet, and then I later realised that I was bleeding,” he says. Phori sustained head and rib injuries, and though he has returned to work, his “body has not healed yet. My back is still in pain.”
‘My shoes were on fire’
The 28-year-old says that he has been attending free counselling provided by the mine, but the memory of the incident still haunts him. Phori wishes the mine could have sent representatives to console the victims’ families. “We just wanted them to come and comfort our families, because this thing has also affected them. The mine sent one person to come see us. He came with a basket filled with two apples, juice, a chocolate bar and sweets,” he says as he points at an empty basket still wrapped in a clear plastic bag, which now decorates his green metal kitchen unit.
A pump attendant at the mine, Shihapalazi Mhlanga, 51, told New Frame that the attackers “came in running as though the bus was leaving them. They threw the petrol bomb into the bus. In one second, the whole front was covered in fire.”
Mhlanga was sitting in the front row when the bus was set alight. “I climbed out the window and fell in the middle of the road. My shoes were on fire – I couldn’t walk, I was crawling,’’ Mhlanga says, looking at his feet.
The widow of one of the six miners who died that day says she wants the mine to educate her children because her husband was the breadwinner. The mother of three, who wished to remain anonymous, says that the mine helped with the funerals. “They paid for everything,” she says.
She was called in by the mine to fill in and sign paperwork. “They did not explain what the papers were for, I just signed,” she explains in a monotone voice as she stares at the television.
The mine’s policy dictates that no employee is permitted to go to work until they have been declared fit by an independent medical practitioner, and that all employees are covered by various policies, including a funeral assistance scheme. “The mine assisted the injured employees, as well as the families of the deceased, through the claims process and all applicable benefits have been paid in full.”
The mine says that the partners of the Modikwa mine joint venture have provided additional funds to assist the families, although “the amounts involved are confidential”.
Limpopo police spokesperson colonel Moatshe Ngoepe says the suspects who are being held in connection with the bus bombing appeared before Mecklenburg Magistrates’ Court last month. The five men – Kgaogelo Moime, Sipho Khumalo, Thabo Mokgala, Aubrey Tjie and Philimon Makwana – are charged with six counts of murder, 29 counts of attempted murder, and malicious damage to property.