Eric had read reams of articles on the conflict minerals that filled mobile phones and the exploitative practices that workers in factories endured to assemble the phones; but much to his shame, he blocked these thoughts every time he raised his phone to his face. To Eric, his phone had two main components: circuitry and dust. It was the dust, that muffled the voices that were trying to break through the speaker.
“I can’t hear a word you’re saying” Eric yelled fruitlessly into his phone.
“Eric, Eric, y..hve…seen…..now, now” The screen told Eric that it was his brother on the end of the line, but he couldn’t make any sense of the noises coming from the phone. It was odd that his brother, Nontshakaza, was calling at all, but the irritation of the faltering phone overwhelmed any curiosity of why his brother was calling. Eric whacked the phone with the palm of his hand, sending a cloud of brown dust from the sides of the phone, but all this meant was that the screen flickered, pixels spreading across the small screen. He would try and call his brother later.
As a child he was told the stories of the Sharpeville massacre and the Soweto uprising in 1976, not told in their brutal and violent reality, he was too young for that, but for their symbolic value to their country. They were significant moments in their eventual liberation. Eric would lay tucked up under a single sheet, his eyes clenched shut as his father spun these wonderful tales, conjuring vivid images of bold and proud voices, characters dancing and alive in Eric’s mind. Even when Eric’s father said that that was enough for the night and it was time Eric slept, Eric’s dreams continued the stories of the proto-liberationists. It was because of these memories, that Eric saw the Marikana massacre more than just his own emotional tragedy, but a fracture of history. A wake up call to the real state of affairs. But it was an epiphany that tore him in two, between the party who liberated his people, and his brother.
After his frustrating call or un-call with his brother, Eric went from his home to the bar, deciding on that day to take his bicycle. It was a strange decision, that he often looked back on with fastidious detail. He looked at that decision with profound embarrassment- turning up to the bar on that contraption, that vehicle of dignity and poise. Turning up to the bar and hearing the news of the massacre as he disembarked that firm leather seat that he had been so proud of, he felt such a fool.
“Eric, Eric” The barman called him over to the bar. “Come in from the sun” He beckoned Eric over to the bar, where the battered old radio sat on the bar. Five or six other young men sat quietly at the bar, hanging on every one of the emitted voices, the voices speaking rapidly in Xhosa. It took Eric a minute or two to get up to speed. Certain words kept being repeated, Marikana, ANC, NUM, Lonmin, Marikana, Miners, ANC, Lonmin, Miners, ANC, shots, ANC, shots, NUM, dead. Suddenly panicked, he fumbled with these words trying to make sense of them, like a child rushing to find the right holes for the right pegs, forcing all the wrong pegs into all the wrong holes in a muddle.
“What has happened? Who…who has done this?” Eric yelled to no one in particular.
“A strike…at the mine”
“Yes, yes- I get that! But why have shots been fired? Who is shooting who?!” Silence hung in the bar. All faces fixed on the radio. “Someone answer me!” Eric’s voice once again met silence. He blushed at the adolescent tone to his voice- he wanted answers, and he wanted them now. Nontshakaza’s face would not dissipate from his mind. For the first time in years he was concerned for his brother. They had not spoken in years after a childish spat following their Father’s death. It was little more than grieving brothers turning on each other, but grief ran deep through both brothers, meaning that the schism remained as neither could survive a dent in their pride. Family members whispered it was merely the brother’s Kaizer Chiefs-Orland Pirates rivalry from when they were young, but both brothers knew the spat was all about competing grief- who would lead the family through this tragedy. But in time, it would be clear that the dispute was about the fracturing of the South Africa that their Father had told in so many stories and tales when they were younger. The ending of the dream won by Mandela. Eric, younger by only one year, held firmest to his Father’s belief in the ANC’s ability to steer South Africa; whereas Nontshakaza as the oldest, was keen to forge his own way, keen to point the finger at the ANC and show that nothing had changed since his Father’s time. Both believed their way was the most appropriate way to honour their Father and to lead the family.
It had been Nontshakaza who broke first, and fled from the family, leaving Eric bitterly at the helm. The family pleaded with Eric to make amends and to bring his brother home, but as soon as the family heard of Nontshakaza’s allegiance to Julius Malema, they stopped pleading, they gave up hope. So it was with reluctance that Eric worried about his brother on this day, a reluctance that caused him to grit his teeth and recall all their ancient disputes, but a reluctance that he swallowed as he swung his leg back over this bike, and hoisted himself back up on to that dark brown leather seat. Without conscious thought, Eric turned out onto the dirt track and cycled furiously towards the mine.
Eric stood, his head bowed, in front of the newsstand. The headlines of the papers looked down on him, as if he sat in front of a jury. “ANC Snubs Marikana Ceremonies”. The party that led this country to freedom, to dignity, was snubbing his brother. His brother, shot in the back as he fled from the police lines, was now stabbed in the back by the party who fought for his Father’s freedom. Eric suddenly saw what his brother had been saying all along. He was not rejecting triumphs of the past, in fact he was calling for their ultimate completion.