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South Africa's Lonmin mine reopens after strike deaths

Mining company threatened to fire anyone who doesn’t show up for work tomorrow morning after wildcat strike led to 44 deaths.

Image: Themba Hadebe/AP/Press Association Images

PLATINUM GIANT Lonmin today reopened its South African mine where 44 people have been killed in a wildcat strike, and gave workers another day to come back to the job.

The world’s third-largest platinum producer said about 27 per cent of the mine’s 28,000 employees came to work today, but warned it could fire anyone who does not show up at 7am on Tuesday.

The 11-day illegal strike by about 3,000 rock drill operators had closed production at the Marikana mine, where 34 people were gunned down by police Thursday after ten others were killed earlier in clashes between rival unions.

The powerful National Union of Mineworkers (NUM) also urged workers to take up their tools, but urged an extension of the deadline as the miners’ families are still identifying bodies and arranging funerals.

But the upstart Association of Mineworkers and Construction Union (AMCU) – the driving force behind the wildcat strike – still sounded defiant, accusing Lonmin and NUM of a conspiracy to rid the mine of its members.

“We are not safe. Our phones have been tapped,” AMCU president Joseph Mathunjwa told a crowd at a shantytown near the mine. “They will then together analyse and draw up a list. Any AMCU member will then be fired.”

Clashes

His group launched the strike calling for a tripling of the basic monthly wage of 4,000 rand (€400).

That led to clashes with the NUM whose membership has eroded since the emergence of AMCU.

But Lonmin said it has not formally received any demands from the strikers and said AMCU has not participated in its talks with workers.

“Our priority is to return to normality. We are in consultations with the unions, NUM, which is the majority union at the mine,” top Lonmin mining official Mark Munroe told a press conference.

“What has happened here has been a tragedy, and the pain and anger it has led to will take time to heal,” he said in a statement.

“But those representing the vast majority of our workforce have been clear again in our discussions today that we need to try to return to some kind of normality as we go through that healing process.”

Monday was the first day of a week of national mourning declared by President Jacob Zuma, with nationwide memorials planned for Thursday.

Thousands of workers gathered in a field near the mine, without the machetes and other weapons that had marked earlier gatherings.

Some accused Lonmin of insensitivity for expecting them to go back to work while they are still in mourning. Six bodies still have not been identified, according to the government.

“They can fire us if they want, we are not going back to work. Zuma must shut down that mine,” one worker said.

Few police were seen on patrol today, though a helicopter sometimes passed in the distance.

A court outside the capital Pretoria today heard charges ranging from murder to public violence against the 259 men arrested after Thursday’s crackdown, when police opened fire on hundreds of strikers armed mainly with spears, machetes and clubs.

After the dust settled, 34 were dead and 78 wounded in the bloodiest day of protest since the fall of white-minority apartheid rule in 1994.

Riot police stood guard outside the court, with armed police in the courtroom, as about 100 people clamoured for a glimpse of their loved ones.

South Africa holds over 80 per cent of the world’s reserves of platinum, popular for jewellery but mainly used to make catalytic converters on cars, which scrub their emissions of pollutants.

Weak demand in major auto markets has taken a toll on the industry, and several mines have been forced to close this year.

Fears of layoffs have heightened tensions among mine workers, a situation the radical AMCU has exploited to gain membership with the promise of hefty wages and claims that the politically connected NUM has become too cozy in the corridors of power.

- (c) AFP, 2012

South African police claim self-defence after 34 shot dead during mining protest >

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