Thabiso Thelejane’s neighbours believe that he may have known he was going to die.
A few months before he was killed, the 55-year-old apparently told his wife, MmaKopano: “Respect me when I’m dead. Respect my grave.”
He lived with MmaKopano and their only child in a modest shack in the Nkaneng informal settlement near the Marikana mine. Their home, however, was in the village of Paballong, near the Eastern Cape town of Matatiele.
Others described Thelejane and his wife as a rare sight for a couple their age.
“It’s rare to see grown-ups so in love, [they were] like lovelorn teenagers,” said a neighbour.
“No man loved Jesus like Ntate Thabiso,” said one of his fellow parishioners at Paballong’s Roman Catholic Church.
Nkopane Mokoena, a colleague at Lonmin, said they had nicknamed Thelejane “Mapopota”. Those from his village and his close friends affectionately called him “Zem Zem”.
Mokoena said Thelejane was a kind man and a “people’s person” who did not hesitate to join the strike because he wanted to support his colleagues’ cause. He had only been working at Lonmin’s Marikana mine, where he was employed as a team leader, for a few months.
His family said they hoped his blood and that of his 33 colleagues would “water the tree of freedom” for mineworkers.
His sister-in-law, who would only identify herself as Ms Gungubele, said Thelejane was like a brother, always willing to help whenever his in-laws were in need. “He was inseparable from his wife,” she said. – Loyiso Sidimba