Rioting Miners
© Times Live, South Africa
Tragic Aftermath: Police check on casualties after firing on striking Lonmin mine workers. Locals believe muti prevented many more from being killed.
A mystery sangoma is believed to be behind the foolish courage displayed by striking miners during Thursday's deadly standoff.

Undeterred by water cannons and tear gas, the miners crept through the bushes towards the police and charged straight into a heavy line of fire.

The surviving miners are not talking, but union officials, residents of Marikana and the police confirmed the presence of the unidentified sangoma, who carried out rituals on the hill and dished out muti where workers had gathered throughout the week.

It is said the man, who is from the Eastern Cape, had provided muti to the protesters and made them believe it would make them invincible.

Senzeni Zokwana, president of the of National Union of Mineworkers, said the strikers had to fork out R500 before being sprinkled with ntelezi.

He said the workers were cut with razor blades and then had the muti smeared on their bleeding wounds.

Several of the strikers the Sunday Times spoke to yesterday were reluctant to talk about the sangoma, and some even denied his existence.

"I heard about that, but I don't want to talk about it," said one before walking away.

Another, who had camped on the hilltop for three days, did not deny the presence of the medicine man.

"I'd rather not respond to that one, please," he said.

A senior policeman who was in one of the police helicopters told the Sunday Times that they had recorded the muti rituals on camera.

"One by one, in a queue, they were sprinkled with muti," he said.

The strikers regarded the hilltop as a sacred place. Women were not allowed near, and the men were not allowed to wear hats.

Several other senior police officers who had been in helicopters that monitored the koppie during the week also confirmed spotting the ritual.

While some may argue that it was stupid to brave automatic gunfire in the manner in which the workers did on Thursday, some locals believe that, if it hadn't been for the muti rituals, many more would have been killed.

"I believe that more could have been killed. We saw what happened. Most of the leaders basetshenziwe (they've had muti rituals performed on them), so they can't be hit by a bullet at all," said a young woman who refused to be identified.

Another told the Sunday Times: "They can't be shot, because a strong ritual makes it impossible for them to be hit by a bullet."

She then mentioned the name of one of the miners, who she said was unharmed, despite having been in the front line of the police attack.

She added: "If a person got shot despite being 'worked on', he must have done something wrong to weaken the muti."

She said women were not allowed near the hill "because they say we'll weaken their muti".

It's unclear if the sangoma was a local from Marikana or had been invited from elsewhere to support the workers.

Amcu national organiser Dumisani Nkalitshana denied that their members used muti.

"We haven't heard any of our members telling us about that. We don't know anything about muti. We are Christians, and we believe in God," said Nkalitshana.