The man in the green blanket is forever silenced

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sa p4 inLIFE.JPG 15-08-2012 202 A man armed with home-made spears standing in front of a seated multitude of striking workers in the violent-torn Lonmin?s Marikane mines. Tiro Ramatlhatse

HE NEVER wanted me to know his name. His name did not matter to me in that hostile situation. I could easily spot him from a distance with his trademark green blanket.

It was the bright-coloured blanket that grabbed my attention as I neared an area in front of a kraal where several men lay strewn on the ground – either dead or badly injured.

I turned to a colleague and said the blanket looked like my contact’s trademark drape. I walked closer. It was him. He was lying face down. Fresh blood trickled from his head.

Even though he was not moving, I still did not believe he was dead.

Police would not have used live ammunition, I thought to myself. I was wrong.

Pictures never lie and because I could not 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 down my spine.

The first picture was gruesome. A man had a big gash in his skull and his brains, or whatever it was, were almost spilling out.

My worst fears were confirmed as I went through the pictures. My contact had been killed.

This is the man I would have had to speak to after the shooting yesterday.

Before the shooting, the man in the green blanket stood before the crowd and reiterated their position saying: “We’d rather die than get back to work or move from this mountain.”

In less than 30 minutes he was dead with a bullet wound to his head.

I had not spoken to him before he was killed. As the union leaders addressed the crowd, he winked at me – a reassuring sign that journalists were still safe.

As I sat writing about the bloodbath at the mines last night, I remembered my contact as the loudest of the group of leaders.

Like his comrades, he carried a home-made spear and sharp-point steel bar in one hand. He was the loudest.

He addressed them without a loudspeaker and ordered the men to allow us to interview them.

The group’s leaders maintained strict rules – no walking around nor speaking on cellphones.

The man in the green blanket looked tired. His hawk-eyes said it all. He had not slept well in days.

After the interview, journalists left and we left our business cards. The men refused to give us any of their contact numbers or names.

I received the first call the following day, Wednesday. They wanted to brief us on their position again.

More calls came. I spoke with different men, including the man in the green blanket.

I would have loved to talk to his colleagues, who together led the striking workers, but their phone was off last night.

I also could not say if any of them had also been shot.

I can only hope they survived the bloodbath.


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