Fear and pain haunt miner after Marikana massacre

A year after police shot dead 34 strikers and wounded dozens at South Africa's Marikana platinum mine, survivor Mancwando Malala is plagued by painful injuries, little money and a fear for his life.

Police opened fire on strikers on August 16 last year after a week of stoppages at the Lonmin mine northwest of Johannesburg. When the dust settled 34 dead bodies lay on the ground, and 78 wounded.

Arrested, released, battling to work because of pain, and lying low as warring unions kill each other's officials, Malala is constantly anxious.

"If I can't do the job they'll send me home. That's what I'm afraid of," the 54-year-old told AFP in an interview.

Malala returned to work in December last year -- four months after he was shot in the leg.

But last month the pain landed him in hospital again.

After being discharged he now has to undergo physiotherapy. Each time his workmates go underground for their shift, he makes his way to the mine's clinic.

Following the bloodbath last year police arrested 270 strikers en masse and charged them with the murder of their own colleagues using a draconian apartheid-era law.

The charges were provisionally dropped, but Malala is anxious that police will come for him again if he says too much about that day.

He uses a false name, and refuses photographs of his house or himself -- even with his face hidden.

The miner is even too nervous to show his wounds from the shooting in case police, or his enemies, identify him through the subsequent descriptions.

But Malala unconsciously touches the aching spot while sitting on a stool against the brightly-painted corrugated iron wall of his communal kitchen.

In the past year his Association of Mineworkers and Construction Union (AMCU) has muscled out the National Union of Mineworkers (NUM) across the platinum industry's largest operations, including Lonmin.

But the clash for dominance has left a trail of murders on the platinum belt in the wake of the massacre, almost all of them at Marikana.

Eight of at least 12 victims were prominent members from both unions.

"It brings fear to workers that we can be targeted," said Malala.

As a rock drill operator, he is one of the highest-earning miners underground, but his injuries have prompted him to rethink his work.

The rock drillers are respected among their peers for breaking up the rock to be mined, a physically demanding job.

They also spearheaded last year's wildcat strike that culminated in a 22-percent pay raise last September.

Malala feels his salary is still too little, yet he's even willing to give that up because of the pain.

"At 54 I've got children. But I can't pay for my kids to go to high school," he said.

"It's painful to such a point that I've asked them to give me a different job, even if it means to take a pay cut."

South Africa on Friday commemorates the massacre that killed his colleagues, as well as a dozen other victims from worker clashes the week before.

Malala has little faith in an inquiry set up to probe the Marikana shootings and living conditions on the mine.

Last month lawyers who represent the wounded miners had to pull out because of lack of funds, which made the commission unbalanced, Malala argued.

But he insisted that "the workers are still united and willing to fight on for their rights," and is open about his affiliation to AMCU which had lured members with the promise of massive raises.

Though they won an unprecedented salary hike, the miners still aren't satisfied, said Malala, in a country with one of the world's biggest gaps between rich and poor.

In an effort to improve the miners' primitive living conditions, workmen recently built communal toilets in the shantytown where they live next to the mine.

But Malala reckons he is still in the same boat.

"We just need money; they can change the other things later."

The miners' sky-high wage demands were believed to be fuelled by massive debt, and the government is cracking down on loan sharks who lend them money at exorbitant interest rates.