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Lonmin hopeful more South African miners will return to work after mass shooting

Mine workers sing a dance during a memorial service at the Lonmin Platinum Mine near Rustenburg, South Africa, on Aug. 23. Police shot and killed 34 striking miners and wounded 78 others last week. Demands for higher wages spread to at least two other mines, raising fears of further protests at more South African mines that provide most of the world’s platinum.

Themba Hadebe/Associated Press

After a promising weekend turnout of workers at its South African platinum mines, Lonmin voiced hopes more will clock in on Monday as talks resume following violence that claimed 44 lives.

Lonmin expects the bulk of its 28,000 workers to report for duty while it tries to work out a deal with the 3,000 rock drill operators who launched a wildcat strike more than two weeks ago.

The platinum giant said 57 per cent of workers had reported for duty on Saturday at one of its two sets of shafts.

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"We are quite upbeat. We are hopeful we will get more workers tomorrow," said spokeswoman Sue Vey.

The government and religious leaders have been mediating in talks between unions and Lonmin management.

Mining operations at the world's third-largest platinum producer have ground to a halt since Aug. 10 when the 3,000 rock drill operators started a vigil on a hill, demanding a 300-per cent pay rise.

The strike degenerated into violent clashes between workers, leading to the deaths of 10 people, including two policemen.

Police then brutally put down the protest, shooting dead 34 strikers, the nation's deadliest police action since apartheid.

An official mourning period for those killed declared by President Jacob Zuma drew to an end at the weekend.

Production at the mines has not yet resumed, with Lonmin saying mining operations would restart once it has secured "sufficient numbers" of workers and safety has been ensured.

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"No production is happening. Yesterday's shift was all about making the place safe, cleaning and briefings," she told Agence France-Presse.

The company will likely battle to meet its annual production target of 750,000 ounces.

Lonmin spent the weekend persuading the workers to return to the job.

Religious leaders said a fresh round of talks was lined up for Monday.

"They had agreed that on Monday they will resume talks on wages, but management raised the issue of peace and an environment conducive to work," Bishop Jo Seoka of the South African Council of Churches told AFP.

On Wednesday talks mediated by the government, and involving the two feuding unions – the main National Union of Mineworkers (NUM) and its breakaway, the Association of Mineworkers and Construction Union (AMCU) – are set to re-open.

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Eric Gcilitshana, NUM's health and safety secretary, who is involved in the talks, said all unions including the AMCU had agreed to be part of the discussions on a peace accord.

He also expected that more workers would show up on Monday, taking a cue from coworkers who have gone to work and returned home unharmed by strikers.

Workers are demanding a wage increase to 12,500 rand ($1,500, 1,200 euros) a month, claiming they currently earn only 4,000 rand.

Once that demand is granted, "maybe Tuesday we will go back" to work, one of the workers' representatives in the talks facilitated by the church, Kunene Msindiseni, told AFP by phone from Marikana.

Lonmin says that, when bonuses and other allowances are included, the rock drill operators earn an average of 9,813 rand before taxes.

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