Johannesburg - Lonmin platinum worker Lungani Mabutyana, 27, hanged himself from a tree on May 5 near the spot where he watched police shoot dead 34 striking mineworkers in August, a group formed by Nobel laureate Desmond Tutu said.
Mabutyana was one of seven men to commit suicide since December as the community around the third-biggest platinum producer’s Marikana mine grapples with debt and the horror of last year’s violence, David van Wyk, the lead researcher of the Johannesburg-based Bench Marks Foundation, said by phone yesterday.
The shooting was South Africa’s deadliest police action since the end of apartheid in 1994.
The foundation is a non-profit organisation owned by church groups in South Africa, according to its website.
“These guys are still going through a lot of trauma from the Marikana massacre,” Van Wyk said.
“The scale of the violence has been of a magnitude which they just weren’t able to comprehend. The whole society has been traumatised.”
Lonmin, Impala Platinum, and Anglo American Platinum, the world’s three biggest producers of the metal, last year suffered output losses and cost increases because of violent strikes.
Police on August 16 shot dead protesting mineworkers near Marikana after 10 days of a strike in which two policemen were killed.
Police say they shot in self-defense after the protesters, armed with machetes, charged them.
Marikana is a small mining town near the Lonmin operation that supplies almost all of its metal.
The company employed 28,230 people as of September 30.
There had only been a “couple” of suicides at the town in the preceding 14 years, according to Van Wyk.
The Bench Marks Foundation published a 167-page study highlighting the social ailments around South Africa’s platinum mining hub of Rustenburg, 120 kilometres (75 miles) northwest of Johannesburg, weeks before the start of last year’s clashes.
The mine unrest prompted Moody’s Investors Service, Standard & Poor’s and Fitch Ratings to downgrade the credit rating of Africa’s largest economy, citing deteriorating social stability as a contributing factor.
“We are obviously concerned” by the suicides, Lonmin spokeswoman Sue Vey said in a phone interview yesterday.
Wider violence around the mines “can start again at any time.”
Mabutyana was one of four suicide victims who were among the thousands of protesting mineworkers who the police fired on, Van Wyk said. He was due to testify at a judicial commission set up to probe the incident. The other three lived nearby and probably suffered psychologically because of the bloodshed, he said.
“Some have seen their fathers or brothers being shot,” Van Wyk said. “To me it looks like things have not been resolved. That place can explode again. Any small incident might trigger that.”
Members of the Association of Mineworkers and Construction Union started a strike at the mine today after its regional organiser, Mawethu Khululekile Stevens, was shot dead in a tavern on May 11. AMCU has become the dominant labor group at the mine since the shooting in August, sparking fighting with the National Union of Mineworkers.
The rand declined as much as 0.5 percent to 9.2094 per dollar today after the news of the strike, its lowest level since April 22. It traded at 9.1961 as of 10:57 a.m. in Johannesburg.
The ruling African National Congress expressed concern about Stevens’s death and AMCU has appealed for calm.
“Marikana cannot be allowed to deteriorate into a bastion of lawlessness and the African National Congress urges the law enforcement agencies to act determinedly and with urgency to bring those involved in these crimes to answer before the judicial system,” the ANC said yesterday.
Some mineworkers have built up debt because of the loss of income during illegal strikes. The strike at Lonmin last year ended after six weeks when the company agreed to pay increases of 11 percent to 22 percent. - Bloomberg News