analysisBy Molaole Montsho
Rustenburg — You die if you do, and you die if you don't.
This is how trapped many Marikana miners feel in the platinum belt in Rustenburg, North West, where there is no end in sight to a four-month-old strike.
"It is a matter of death. You go to work, you die. You stay away, you starve to death," says a mineworker identifying himself as Tlapu, 33, from the Nkaneng informal settlement near Marikana.
Tlapu is one of the silent workers eager to return to work, but who fear for their lives since the Association of Mineworkers and Construction Union (Amcu) went on strike at Impala Platinum, Lonmin, and Anglo American Platinum on January 23.
"I have had enough of this strike. I cannot afford to provide for my family. It is not safe, the patrollers [hit squad] follow you home," he said breathing heavily, sweat forming on his forehead.
"Going to work risks the safety of your family."
Without a salary for four months, Tlapu depends on friends and relatives to give him money to survive.
He was disappointed after Amcu leader Joseph Mathunjwa recently told about 5000 union members the strike would continue.
"I am not happy at all. I was at the stadium. I cannot raise my hand and speak against the strike. I am afraid I will be killed."
At the Marikana Centre, Maria Ntuli carefully counts a few coins, the change she got after buying food for her three children.
"My husband does not earn a living any more."
Her family now depends on the R930 a month child support grant for their children.
"This strike is killing us," she said clapping hands in disbelief.
"I am afraid hunger will drive my husband to work and he will be killed."
Amcu members downed tools on January 23 demanding a basic monthly salary of R12,500. They rejected the companies' wage offer which will bring their cash remuneration to R12,500 by July 2017.
The remuneration includes a living out and holiday leave allowances, but excludes medical and retirement benefits, and any bonuses.
The strike has cost employers over R18.7 billion in revenue and employees over R8.3bn in earnings, according to figures on the website created by platinum mining companies, www.platinumwagenegotiations.co.za, on Tuesday morning.
Another mineworker, Alfenso, 49, from Maputo in Mozambique, never expected the strike to carry on for this long.
"I was on leave when the strike started. I thought it will only be for two weeks."
He survives by scavenging for scrap metal at the municipal dumping site.
"I do not have money. I collect scrap metal to recycle."
He carries a black plastic shopping bag containing 500g washing powder and a 125g brick of bath soap.
"I am sending this to my family in Maputo, it is not enough but it is what I can afford. I want to go to work but I am afraid I will be killed.
"I have been warned by friends that magundwane [rats] will be hunted and killed."
He displays a cellphone picture of a woman apparently killed for going to work. The photo shows the woman's head crushed with a rock and her stomach ripped open.
"I do not want to die like this."
Defiant rock drill operator, Alfred Ncula from Butterworth in the Eastern Cape, says miners have gone too far to surrender.
"I am not going underground [to work] without R12,500. We have been fighting for too long to give up now. We have nothing to lose except slave wage."
He had sold some of his goats to survive during the strike and was prepared to sell his whole flock.
"I am 100 percent behind the strike. It is not easy but it's worth the sacrifice in future. In Marikana, we are under pressure. The R12,500 demand started with us in 2012. Our comrades died fighting for R12,500. We must push for their sake."
Forty-four people were killed in August 2012, during a wildcat strike at Lonmin. Thirty-four were killed on August 16 when the police fired on them, apparently attempting to disarm and disperse them.
Ten people, including two policemen and two security guards, were killed in the preceding week.
At least five people have been killed in violence believed to be related to the strike since May 11.
North West police said a 60-year-old Lonmin employee was found murdered in Bapong on May 12.
In Legalaopeng, Bapong, a 47-year-old man and a 38-year-old woman were found dead in their house on May 11, police spokesman Brigadier Thulani Ngubane says.
The body of another man was found near Lonmin's Saffi shaft.
In Marikana, a middle-aged man, seemingly a contract worker at Lonmin's K3 shaft, died on May 11 when his shack in the Bighouse informal settlement was torched.
Ngubane said six men were attacked near Saffi shaft.
No one has been arrested and investigations continue, along with the exasperation of many a desperate miner and his family.