South Africa on Friday revived mediation efforts in its platinum belt, aiming to contain labour discontent among mineworkers following the nation’s deadliest police action since apartheid.
Labour Minister Mildred Oliphant met with union representatives in Rustenburg, the main city in the mining area in the north of the country where 44 died last week in clashes at Lonmin’s Marikana mine.
They discussed ways to “stabilize the situation and find an amicable solution to the labour dispute,” the government said in a statement, without elaborating.
Meanwhile operations restarted at other platinum mines in the region – but not at Marikana – while managers and workers’ representatives hammered out wage agreements.
Fitch rating agency underscored concerns around the industry, saying that nagging social problems could cripple the country’s investment climate if not addressed.
“The protests highlight broader structural problems that have long weighed on South Africa’s rating,” the agency said in a statement.
Lonmin, the world’s third-biggest platinum producer, said only about 24 per cent of its 28,000 work force at Marikana signed in on Friday, forcing it to suspend mining yet another day.
“Mining operations will only resume once we have sufficient workers in attendance and the necessary safety procedures have been undertaken,” Lonmin said in a statement.
It said earlier that striking workers would not be punished during a week of mourning for the dead, which started on Monday.
About 3,000 rock drill operators at the Lonmin mine launched an illegal strike on Aug. 10 that quickly devolved into clashes with non-strikers.
Ten people including two police were killed, leading to the crackdown on Aug. 16, when police gunned down 34 armed miners.
Police insist that they used teargas first and only opened fire after miners shot at them. The miners say they were armed only with spears, machetes and clubs.
Workers are demanding a wage increase to 12,500 rand ($1,475) per month, claiming to earn only 4,000 rand.
Lonmin says that when their bonuses and other allowances are included, the workers earn around 11,000 rand, with a 9-per cent increase set to kick in on Oct. 1.
South African President Jacob Zuma on Thursday named a judicial probe with a wide-ranging mandate to investigate not only the violence but also the labour conditions at the mines.
Around 100 workers at Anglo American Platinum’s Thembelani mine refused to go down the shafts early Friday, demanding a meeting with managers. But by mid-day the company said everyone was back on the job.
Down the road workers took up tools again at the Royal Bafokeng Platinum mine, after 600 refused to work on Wednesday.
“Things are normalized and employees have gone underground,” spokeswoman Kea Kalebe told AFP.
The company, which belongs to the local Bafokeng tribe, met with unions on Thursday.
“The delegation of workers made a formal list of demands, among them the 12,500-rand wage increase,” she said.
“It was agreed that those issues are going to be resolved inside the normal structures and the company is not in a position to negotiate. All the parties are bound with a wage agreement until June 2014.”
Most of South Africa’s mines have similar wage deals with their employees, with new contract negotiations not due until 2014 – a bid to avoid the annual strikes that often bring industries to a halt at mid-year.
South Africa held nationwide memorials for the Marikana victims on Thursday, and bereaved families were beginning to bury their loved ones.
Six of the dead had already been buried by Friday, while three others would be laid to rest over the weekend, the government said.
Four of the victims were from Lesotho, and one from Swaziland, both neighbouring countries to South Africa.
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