New deadline for striking SA miners

Mon, Aug 20, 2012, 01:00

Platinum producer Lonmin said today it had resumed operations at its Marikana mine in South Africa where 44 people were killed last week in some of the most violent clashes since the end of apartheid.

The company also said it would give striking workers until Tuesday to report to work or face dismissal - extending a deadline that had been set for Monday.

Last week, 34 people were gunned down by police when authorities moved in against 3,000 striking workers from platinum producer Lonmin armed with machetes, spears and handguns who were camped on a hill at Lonmin's Marikana mine, about 100km northwest of Johannesburg.

Ten people were killed prior to the police shooting, including a National Union of Mineworkers (NUM) shop steward who was hacked to death. NUM General Secretary Frans Baleni, speaking on a nationally televised talk show, said yesterday he was not sure if the miners would return to work..

Yesterday, a mine spokeswoman had warned: "The final ultimatum [for workers to return] has been extended to Monday, the 20th following Thursday's events. Employees may be dismissed if they fail to heed the final ultimatum."

The strike was sparked by a turf war between the powerful NUM and the upstart Association of Mineworkers and Construction Union, which has accused NUM of caring more about politics than workers in mine shafts.

NUM has been a breeding ground of leaders for the ruling African National Congress party, and one of the union's former top officials now sits on Lonmin's board as a non-executive director.

The deadly protest could also hurt the ANC and its long-standing labour allies by laying bare workers' anger over enduring inequalities in Africa's biggest economy.

Ousted ANC youth leader Julius Malema turned up the heat on his rival President Jacob Zuma at the weekend by telling a group of cheering miners at Marikana that Mr Zuma was more interested in protecting mine owners than workers.

Platinum sells for about $1,440 an ounce but a worker drilling underground at tonnes of rock face to extract it makes less than $500 (€404) a month.

Mr Zuma has called the killings "shocking" and called for a commission of inquiry to look into the matter. He has declared a week-long period of mourning from Monday to commemorate the lives of South Africans who have died violently, including those killed at the Lonmin mine.

London-based Lonmin accounts for 12 per cent of global platinum output. It is already struggling with low prices, weak demand and may miss its annual production target of 750,000 ounces as the quarter to the end of September is typically its best.

Reuters