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S.Africa platinum mine reopens after deadly clashes: Lonmin

22 august 2012, 09:59
0
Embattled platinum giant Lonmin resumed operations Monday at the South African mine where 44 people were killed in a wildcat strike, and gave workers another day to come back to the job, AFP reports.

The world's third-largest platinum miner also softened its tone, saying strikers who failed to pitch up would face "disciplinary action", after earlier threatening to sack them.

The 11-day illegal strike by about 3,000 rock drill operators had closed production at the Marikana mine, where 34 people were gunned down by police Thursday after 10 others were killed in clashes between rival unions.

"What has happened here has been a tragedy, and the pain and anger it has led to will take time to heal," top Lonmin mining official Mark Munroe said in a statement.

"But those representing the vast majority of our workforce have been clear again in our discussions today that we need to try to return to some kind of normality as we go through that healing process.

"Tens of thousands of people's livelihoods rely on Lonmin, as well as much of the local infrastructure we provide in terms of health, water, education and housing."

About 27 percent of the 28,000 employees at the mine heeded the company's call to return to the job Monday. The company said that was enough to resume operations.

Later Munroe and union officials were expected to make a joint appeal for more workers to follow suit.

Monday is the first day of a week of national mourning declared by President Jacob Zuma, with nationwide memorials planned for Thursday.

About 1,000 workers gathered in a field near the mine, without the machetes and other weapons that had marked earlier gatherings.

Some accused Lonmin of insensitivity for expecting them to go back to work while they are still in mourning.

"They can fire us if they want, we are not going back to work. Zuma must shut down that mine," one worker said.

The upstart Association of Mineworkers and Construction Union (AMCU) launched the strike calling for a tripling of the basic monthly wage of 4,000 rand ($486, 400 euros).

That led to clashes with the powerful National Union of Mineworkers (NUM), whose membership has been eroded by the AMCU's emergence.

Few police were seen on patrol, though a helicopter sometimes passed in the distance.

A local leader addressed the crowd, reading out a list of the 259 people arrested after Thursday's crackdown, when police opened fire on hundreds of strikers armed mainly with spears, machetes and clubs.

After the dust settled, 34 were dead and 78 wounded in the bloodiest day of protest since the fall of white-minority apartheid rule in 1994.

Scores of people who were arrested were appearing in a court outside the capital Pretoria on charges ranging from murder to public unrest.

Eleven mini-buses have been hired to transport relatives to support the detainees, said the local chief addressing the crowd near the mine.

South Africa holds over 80 percent of the world's reserves of platinum, popular for jewelry but mainly used to make catalytic converters on cars, which scrub their emissions of pollutants.

Weak demand in major auto markets has taken a toll on the industry, and several mines have been forced to close this year.

Fears of layoffs have heightened tensions among mine workers, a situation the radical AMCU has exploited to gain membership with the promise of hefty wages and claims that the politically connected NUM has become too cozy in the corridors of power.

By Sibongile Khumalo


BACKGROUND

Here are some key facts about platinum producer Lonmin, whose Marikana mine in South Africa resumed operations Monday after an 11-day wildcat strike that left 44 dead, 34 of them gunned down by police.

HISTORY:

Founded in 1909 as The London and Rhodesian Mining Company, the firm is headquartered in London and listed on the London Stock Exchange but has its operational base in South Africa, where all its assets are located.

OUTPUT:

In 2011 Lonmin produced 754,000 ounces of platinum, a precious metal used in jewelry and catalytic converters for automobiles, according to industry specialists Johnson Matthey. That makes it the number three platinum firm worldwide, after Anglo-South African firm Anglo American and South African group Impala.

BOTTOM LINE:

The company reported sales of $1.99 billion for the fiscal year ended September 30, 2011. It had 27,800 employees. The Marikana mine is its main asset, contributing 96 percent of annual production.

SHAREHOLDERS:

Swiss mining group Xstrata, which abandoned a hostile takeover bid for Lonmin in 2008, is the company's largest shareholder with a 25-percent stake.

POLITICAL CONNECTIONS:

The most well-known member of Lonmin's board is South African businessman Cyril Ramaphosa, 59, a member of the ruling African National Congress famous for his business success and touted as a possible presidential candidate. Ramaphosa founded the National Union of Mineworkers, one of the country's most powerful, whose clash with rival upstart the Association of Mineworkers and Construction Union precipitated the deadly violence at Marikana.

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