A former playing field for some, a grazing site and planting fields, has become well known for the deaths of many mineworkers in Marikana, in North West.

A place where two kings of the Bafokeng and Bapo ba Mogale reportedly met in the 1900’s, is now known to the world for the wrong reasons, and is used as a case study by many, when talking about the plight of mineworkers.

On the 16th of August 2012, 34 mineworkers were killed during a confrontation with police in Marikana.

Ten more people, including two police and security officers, were killed in the preceding weeks.

These events dominated headlines across the globe with some commentators defining it as the most violent and brutal labour dispute in the post-Apartheid South Africa. However, little was known about this impoverished community which is found on the outskirts of Rustenburg which is famous for its mineral wealth, particularly platinum.

The history and the origins of this area, which was reportedly invaded by one of the brothers of Ndebele King Mzilikazi, who is known as Maimane, and his followers during the Mfecane period which historians define as the country’s turbulent times of war, desperation and land invasions. Marikana will go down in history as the place which bears the scars of a violent confrontation between mine workers and police, sending shock waves across the globe. Can something positive be said about this place? Ratsheki Maimane was born in this place in 1947, the days in which the area gave life and hope to the people. The infamous Koppie lies at the epicentre of Maimane’s great grandparents’ maize fields.

The 68-year-old has got fond memories about the good old days.

“When I was born, where actually I’m standing, it’s where we did plough, in this area, this whole area we did plough. Our forefathers bought it and by then because they didn’t have a king, they came up to see who can lead them in this process, and then they approached the Bapo. We lived like that as Bapo it was peace and harmony by that time, until 1966 this mine came,” says Maimane.

It was in the 1900s where the Kings of Bapo ba Mogale and Bafokeng would meet in Marikana, to discuss various issues ranging from land segmentation, customary law and forming a united front to defend themselves against the enemy. Historically, this place was called Marakanelo, a Setswana word for “A meeting place”. However the name lost its historical meaning and significance in the process.

“When the farmers, the white farmers, came here they found the name of Marakanelo but for them to make it easier for them to can communicate easily and to name it to their easiest way of naming the place, they called it Marikana,” says a community elder Father Ramaboa.

Many years later, this place became a Marakanelo or a Meeting for Place for mine-workers, to discuss their labour concerns and the state of their living conditions.

“This incident of the massacre which happened here, it did really affect us a lot and we did live in fear,” says Maimane.

Wonderkop, which Marikana falls under, also has some interesting historical meaning and folklore.

Legend has it that the area was named after a Koppie which had miracles, hence Wonderkop or Thaba ya Dimamakatso in Setswana or still a Mountain of Wonders in English.

This koppie is found about two to three kilometres from the koppie where the 34 miners were killed.

“Our forefathers discovered that these small mountains or this mountain has got lot of miracles. Lots of things could be heard. People could be heard singing. People could be heard shouting, people could be heard doing traditional issues,” says Ramaboa.

This year marks the third commemoration of the Marikana tragedy, and while many came to know this place with what transpired here on that fateful day, a lot of history of this area remains an unexplored and interesting story.

– By Itumeleng Kgajane