Cops go in for killComment on this story
HE NEVER wanted me to know him by his name. It did not matter to me, in that hostile situation. I could easily spot him from a distance, with his trademark green blanket.
It was that bright-coloured blanket that grabbed my attention as I drew close to an area in front of a kraal where several men lay strewn on the ground – either dead or badly injured.
I turned to my photographer colleague, Tiro Ramatlhatse, and said: “That blanket looks like my contact’s trademark drape.”
I walked closer. It was him, lying face down. Fresh blood trickled from his head. He did not move, yet I could not believe he was dead.
The police would not have used live ammunition, I thought – but I was wrong.
Pictures never lie, and because I couldn’t get too close to the bodies, I asked a colleague to let me scroll through the pictures he had just taken. I immediately felt a chill crawl along my spine.
The first picture was gruesome: a man with a big gash in his skull, and it appeared that his brains were spilling onto the soil.
My worst fear was confirmed as I went through the pictures. My contact within the striking miners had just been killed.
Thirty minutes earlier, he had winked knowingly at me as he stood before the several thousand men who had downed tools last Friday. They were protesting against low wages, and he’d said: “We’d rather die than get back to work or move from this mountain.”
His words appeared to have been prophetic – 30 minutes later, a bullet – apparently fired by police – struck him in the head.
I had not spoken to him yesterday. The last time we had spoken was on Wednesday, behind the kraal. It was an unusual spot, chosen for our liaison because the crowd was rowdy and we were unsure whether our presence as media was welcome.
Last night, his lifeless body lay about 10 metres from where we had met. He was among several men killed when the police moved in.
The shooting, which lasted several minutes, erupted when police sought to disperse the men.
It was not immediately clear who had fired the first shots.
My source in the green blanket was one of the five men the striking miners had chosen as their leaders.
They were the men who had come down from the hilltop on Tuesday to speak to a group of journalists assigned to cover the illegal strike by Lonmin platinum mineworkers.
I’d left my cellphone number with him then. He’d given me a number, but when I called during the week, the phone was answered by several people, at different times. It was never him.
I don’t know why he chose me to be the contact between the miners and journalists, but from the several numbers handed to them, he had chosen to call me back.
Like most of the men on that hill, he carried a homemade spear and a sharp-pointed steel bar.
The weapons were always gripped together in one hand.
I remember him as the man with a keen eye, keeping the rules in check – no walking around or talking on cellphones was allowed.
He was the loudest leader and never needed a loudhailer to address the crowd.
But I’d found out little about the man in the green blanket.
I don’t know if he was married. Or how many children he had.
He didn’t speak for himself; he spoke for the workers.