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Hopes high for South African mine resolution

Company wants a “peace accord” sealed before starting negotiations on workers’ wage demands

Image Credit: Reuters
Workers await a report on negotiations at Lonmin’s Marikanamine in South Africa’s northwest province on Wednesday
Gulf News

Johannesburg: World number three platinum producer Lonmin and mediators were optimistic about a breakthrough in talks with workers on Thursday to end a three-week strike after violence left 44 people dead.

Talks brokered by South African government officials resumed after negotiators met for 12 straight hours the day before in the north-western town of Rustenburg.

“I think today will be the deciding day in terms of the way forward. I think it’s D-Day,” mediator Bishop Jo Seoka from the South African Council of Churches told AFP.

Lonmin spokeswoman Sue Vey said the government mediation was “very constructive”.

“We hope to find a resolution today,” she told AFP.

The company wants a “peace accord” sealed before starting negotiations on workers’ wage demands. But workers, who say they earn 4,000 rand (Dh1,726) a month and want 12,500 rand, insist they will not go back underground until their demands are met.

Representatives of big player the National Union of Mineworkers (NUM) and the smaller Association of Mineworkers and Construction Union (AMCU), whose bitter rivalry has been blamed for the unrest at the mine, were also at the talks.

At the Wednesday meeting there was “a general understanding that everybody wants peace, a stable environment conducive to work,” said Seoka. But little progress was made on workers’ demands.

A strike leader, Zolisa Bodlani, told workers, gathered at a open ground near the hill where police shot dead 34 workers, that wage demands would be discussed. It was unclear if these were on Thursday’s agenda.

“The unions agreed on Wednesday to reopen the salary negotiations and have committed to finding a solution to the Lonmin labour dispute,” Bodlani was quoted as saying by the SAPA news agency.

The strike has paralysed operations at Lonmin’s Marikana mine since some 3,000 rock drill operators downed tools on August 10.

As the deadlock approached its fourth week, worker attendance slid even further with only 6.6 per cent of the 28,000-strong workforce reporting for duty on Thursday. It was 7.7 per cent on Wednesday.

Mines Minister Susan Shabangu has meanwhile tried to calm investors’ nerves over the strike that has paralysed operations at the Marikana mine which accounts for about 92 per cent of Lonmin’s annual output.

“We urge our investors, incumbent and prospective, to take comfort in the solid foundations set by our constitution, government, legal and civil institutions and the leadership shown by our government,” Shabangu said in a speech delivered on Wednesday at a conference in Perth, Australia.

“I commend the leadership of the organised labour movements in the industry and business for working with government in seeking to collectively develop modalities of ensuring that the Marikana tragedy is never repeated anywhere else in this industry,” she said.

Police opened fire on striking workers at the mine on August 16, killing 34, after an escalating standoff between rival unions that had already left 10 people dead, including two police officers.

The incident was the worst day of police violence in South Africa since the end of white-minority apartheid rule in 1994.

London-listed Lonmin lies on South Africa’s platinum belt where Anglo-American Platinum, the world’s leading producer of the metal used in car exhausts, is also based.