Family questions Lonmin miner's suicide

Marvellous Mpofana was due to testify before the Farlam ­commission of inquiry before his death on Saturday last week. (Supplied)

Marvellous Mpofana was due to testify before the Farlam ­commission of inquiry before his death on Saturday last week. (Supplied)

Unanswered questions still surround the apparent suicide of Lonmin miner Marvellous Mpofana (34), who was discovered hanging from the rafters of his one-room home in the informal settlement of Big House, Marikana, last Saturday. Mpofana was among the workers wounded and arrested after police shot at striking miners on August 16, killing 34 and wounding 78.

Mpofana would have been enjoying his leave at his KwaZulu-Natal home in Mbotho, Harding, had it not been for a fall on a rainy day in early December.

According to his brother-in-law, Thembelihle Mtshaka, Mpofana was on crutches after being injured during the Marikana shoot-out. He slipped on one of his crutches, landed on his right knee, which was held in place with metal rods, and the tibia shifted.

"He was supposed to see a doctor this past Tuesday [December 11]," Mtshaka said. "[After the fall,] he said: 'Brother, maybe it's a bad omen. I don't know what this is supposed to mean.'

"I said: 'Don't cry, you survived the shooting on the mountain and I haven't left your side up until now – and only God knows how we survived that.' I tried to keep his spirits up by reminding him that at least he was still earning and able to support his family."

Packing Mpofana's belongings, Mtshaka placed the metal rods into a red plastic bag to take home to the family for his burial on December 21.

Pool of blood
Mtshaka pointed to an empty one-litre Coke bottle – a reminder of the last moments they spent together on December 6. They parted ways in the evening when Mpofana left to buy more cold drink.

Mpofana did not answer his phone on Friday, so on Saturday Mtshaka and two colleagues went to check on him. They found him dangling from a metal coat hanger tied to the rafters of his corrugated-iron roof.

Mtshaka says his in-law was naked, save for his underpants. A pool of blood had collected on the linoleum floor. He found a hacksaw and a knife on the bed and a green plastic stool below the body.

Mtshaka said he cannot remember where the blood came from.

"I didn't look too carefully, because I was shocked and didn't want to disturb the crime scene. From the way the house looked ... he slept first and then decided to hang himself."

With Mpofana's tibia dislodged by the fall, the question Mtshaka cannot answer is how he could have prepared his noose, hoisted himself on to the chair and hanged himself. Even more suspicious is that his black metal crutches were discovered propped up against a far wall. Although Mpofana had taken to hopping around to preserve some measure of independence, it does not seem likely that he could have hopped on to the stool. All of this brings up the question of murder.  

Anele Zonke, a colleague at Lonmin, said Mpofana appeared in photographic evidence supplied to the Farlam commission of inquiry. The photo shows Mpofana with his hands tied behind his back and a handgun, which Zonke thinks was possibly planted, beside him. Zonke insists that Mpofana was due to testify and suspects he could have been murdered because of what he knew. His death was announced by legal counsel Dali Mpofu at the commission on Tuesday.

A former winch driver working at Karee's 4B shaft, Mpofana had recently been promoted to team leader.

An unnamed police source said they had received information that Mpofana was having family problems, which might have led to suicide. This was in contrast to the picture painted by Mtshaka that his family was hosting a ceremony on December 29 to celebrate a milestone in Mpofana's lobola proceedings.

Kwanele Sosibo

Kwanele Sosibo

Kwanele Sosibo studied journalism at Durban's ML Sultan Technikon before working at Independent Newspapers from 2000 to 2003. In 2005, he joined the Mail & Guardian's internship programme and later worked as a reporter at the paper between 2006 and 2008, before working as a researcher. He was the inaugural Eugene Saldanha Fellow in 2011. Read more from Kwanele Sosibo

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