Lonmin backs off mine sackings again as S.Africa mourns
Tip News - 2012/08/21       A+ A-
MARIKANA, South Africa (AFP)

Platinum giant Lonmin eased off its threat to fire miners who failed to return to work Tuesday, as South Africa pleaded for time to mourn the 44 people killed during a wildcat strike.

About one-third of Lonmin's 28,000 employees at the Marikana platinum mine reported for work Tuesday, the company said, although production has yet to resume pending the completion of safety checks.

The world's third-largest platinum miner had threatened to sack the 3,000 rock drill operators who launched an illegal strike on August 10, but later conceded that mass firings would do little to ease tensions.

"I don't think it's going to contribute to a more stable environment if Lonmin goes out and puts deadlines and ultimatums and say we will fire everyone if no one comes to work," top mining executive Mark Munroe told local radio.

"Workers are encouraged to return and we will all work together with government, workers, unions, police and the community to stabilise the situation."

The government had urged Lonmin to allow more time for families to grieve the 44 people killed in strike-related violence, with two bodies still awaiting identification.

Thirty-four of the dead were gunned down Thursday by police, who had been called in to quell inter-union clashes that earlier killed 10.

Methodist Bishop Paul Verryn gathered Tuesday with three dozen men and women clad in red and black church uniforms at the scene of the police crackdown.

"We came to mourn and show solidarity with the poor. People who put their lives on the line digging the precious minerals hidden beneath this soil," Verryn said.

"We pray that the events that led to their death will bring some change, especially for those left behind, orphans, widows and co-workers."

President Jacob Zuma has declared a week of mourning with nationwide memorials planned for Thursday.

Lonmin has been widely urged by government and unions not to fire any workers until the mourning period ends.

Collins Chabane, the chief of the president's office, said many workers are still afraid of being attacked in inter-union clashes.

"The situation is volatile, but we hope that the workers and the management will be reasonable enough for them to understand the gravity of the situation," Chabane said on national radio.

"The violence has been there, people have been brutally killed, and as long as people still brandish weapons and people still gather in the manner in which they are doing, people are worried that the violence can still flare up again."

Over the last week, hundreds of workers have gathered near the mine, often carrying spears, machetes and clubs. Police said the mineworkers had charged on officers with these weapons and fired some shots, provoking the deadly shooting.

About 500 workers again gathered Tuesday under police guard, still sounding defiant.

"Our position has not changed, we are not moving. We refuse to be intimidated by Lonmin," said mineworker Litha Mpulo.

"It is better to starve while at home than starve while underground," he said.

Violence at Marikana erupted in clashes blamed on rivalry between members of the powerful National Union of Mineworkers (NUM) and the radical new Association of Mineworkers and Construction Union (AMCU).

The AMCU has made inroads by promising huge wage increases, such as a tripling of the basic monthly wage of 4,000 rand ($486, 400 euros) for rock drill operators.

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

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

Munroe said that in addition to salaries, rock drill operators receive bonuses and other allowances that bring their monthly pay to more than 11,000 rand -- before a nine-percent increase that kicks in on October 1.

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