Runette Kruger

Tokolos Stencil Collective, 2014, stencil, graffiti, Cape Town. © Derek Smith

Protest Against Inequality

Cape Town based Tokolos Stencil Collective use stencil and graffiti to address local and national socio-political issues. This image created by them – namely the Remember Marikana stencil of Mgcineni Noki – addresses lingering inequality and exploitive working conditions in South Africa. Noki has come to be known as The man in the green blanket because of this iconic ‘battle cloak’ worn by him in the days before the Marikana Massacre. The Marikana Massacre took place on 16 August 2012 when 34 striking miners died, including Noki, identifiable by his green blanket as he lay on the ground.





  • Runette Kruger
    Runette Kruger

    Cape Town based Tokolos Stencil Collective uses stencil and graffiti to address socio-political issues such as lingering racial inequality, labour exploitation, segregation, and poverty. The name of the collective refers to a dwarflike mythical being, the tokoloshe, that materialises at night to frighten unsuspecting victims, now mobilised by the Collective to “terrorise the powers that be”, or, the status quo of inequality (Tokolos-Stencils, 2015). The declared aim of the Collective is to highlight continuing spatial and social segregation in a post-apartheid South Africa (Botha, 2014).  


    The social discrepancies whereby the majority of South Africans continue to experience social and economic isolation are addressed by Adato, Carter and May (2006), who cite the Poverty and Inequality report of 2000. In the report, South Africa is described in terms of two parallel worlds, “one, populated by black South Africans where the Human Development Index (HDI) was the equivalent to [that of] Zimbabwe or Swaziland. The other … [populated by] white South Africa in which the HDI [was] between that of Israel and Italy” (Adato, Carter and May, 2006, p. 226). This inequality had, disturbingly, only deepened between 2000 and 2006, and in a March 2018 report by the World Bank, South Africa is cited as the most unequal country globally in 2015, based on the Gini coefficient of 0.63 of that year (World Bank, 2018, p42). The Gini coefficient measures the gap in income between the wealthiest and poorest members of a population. A score of 0 would indicate absolute income equality, and a score of 1 would indicate that one person owned all the wealth. This disparity, as well as the resultant exploitability of the poor, informs the Tokolos Stencil Collective’s main subject matter.  


    The most widely recognizable image associated with the Collective is the Remember Marikana stencil, which combines these words with an image of Mgcineni Noki, known as Mambush to his friends and family, or, within the context of the Marikana massacre, The man in the green blanket. The Marikana event played a formative role in the establishment of the Collective – it was founded in 2013 on the day of the first anniversary of the event (Anaya, 2014). The massacre is widely regarded as a watershed crisis, comparable with the Sharpeville tragedy of 21 March 1960, now commemorated as Human Rights Day.


    Noki was a community leader who became a prominent news figure in the days before the Marikana massacre, identifiable by the bright green blanket tied around his shoulders. The Marikana massacre took place on 16 August 2012 when striking miners working at the London-based Lonmin Platinum Mine in the North-West Province were gunned down by police wielding automatic rifles, violently ending a six day build-up of tension. Noki grew up in Thwalikhulu, a small village in the Eastern Cape, and was aged 30 at the time of his death. He had a wife and two year old daughter who lived in Carletonville, about 100km away. He is reported to have attempted to de-escalate the growing violent skirmishes, and to focus the gathered strikers on their aim – to increase their wages. The evening before the massacre, the miners were led to believe that if they returned to work, wage negotiations would begin. In the hours before the final events, while the miners’ repeated requests for negotiations were ignored, they were finally beseeched by their union to withdraw. Weighing up the growing indications of a final crack down, Noki began to lead a group of miners away from the outcrop of rock that had been the main scene of conflict over the course of the week. As they reached the nearby settlement their path was blocked by police and barbed wire. Noki led the men another route, only to be blocked again. The ensuing gunfire on the group led to the death of 17 men, Noki among them, identifiable by his green blanket as he lay on the ground. A second group of men were also attempting to leave the site, and were fired at with 295 bullets, resulting in 17 more casualties. The strike continued for another five weeks before the mining company agreed to negotiate. Pay was increased by 7% (Davies, 2015).


    I specifically chose this image of Noki, his arm raised while exhorting and encouraging his fellow workers, instead of the dehumanising imagery of up-close, lifeless mineworkers that was freely shared by the press. In contrast, this image in the Remember Marikana stencil shows him as a leader with courage and purpose, and has become an iconic symbol of the struggle for dignity and an adequate wage among the most exploited workers in South Africa, on whose labour an economy that they are unable to access, has been built. Commenting on the lot of the under-classes in 1940, during the impending humanitarian crisis of the Second World War, Walter Benjamin (1969, p. 255 original emphasis) reminds us that “every image of the past that is not recognized by the present as one of its own concerns threatens to disappear irretrievably ... To articulate the past historically ... means to seize hold of a memory as it flashes up at a moment of danger [failing which] even the dead will not be safe”. The Remember Marikana image reminds us that it is crucial to prevent the sacrifices of the most vulnerable members of society from slipping into the amnesia of oblivion.





    • Adato, M., Carter, M.R., & May, J. (2006). Exploring poverty traps and social exclusion in South Africa using qualitative and quantitative data. The Journal of Development Studies, 42(2), 226-247.
    • Anaya, V. (2014, September 10). Tokolos Collective: “Cape Town is a very oppressive place for the poor”. Wiriko Artes Y Culturas Africanas. Retrieved from https://www.wiriko.org/tag/marikana/
    • Benjamin, W. (1969). Illuminations. Edited by Hannah Arendt. New York: Schocken.
    • Botha, N. (2014, November 21). Tokolos Stencil Collective: 'Crap' art designed to unsettle. The Mail & Guardian. Retrieved from https://mg.co.za/article/2014-11-21-tokolos-stencil-collective-crap-art-designed-to-unsettle.
    • Davies, N. (2015, May 22). The savage truth behind the Marikana massacre. The Mail & Guardian. Retrieved from https://mg.co.za/article/2015-05-21-the-savage-truth-behind-the-marikana-massacre.
    • Tokolos-Stencils. (2015). Retrieved from http://tokolosstencils.tumblr.com/. 
    • World Bank. (2018). Overcoming poverty and inequality in South Africa: An assessment of drivers, constraints and opportunities. Washington DC, USA.



    published March 2020