Lonmin mine disruption continues


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The Independent Online

The South African mine at the centre of the violence that saw 34 people gunned down resumed production today after nearly a third of its staff returned to work.

Lonmin had ordered 3,000 illegally striking rock drill operators to return to work or risk losing their jobs at its Marikana mine, and appealed to a further 25,000 staff and 10,000 contractors to report for duty after police said it was safe.

At first only 27% of its 28,000 workforce turned up after being put off by the fear of more violence but as more staff joined the shift the group was able to restart production, albeit on a significantly reduced scale.

Shares fell a further 4% today on top of the 15% falls last week after 34 miners were shot by police in one of the worst displays of state violence since apartheid ended in 1994.

Mark Munroe, Lonmin's executive vice-president for mining, said: "What has happened here has been a tragedy, and the pain and anger it has led to will take time to heal.

"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."

Lonmin said the illegal strikers who failed to return to work today will not be dismissed as it had previously threatened, but will be given an extra day to return.

Mr Munroe added: "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.

"We have visited many of the injured in hospital, and met the families of the deceased.

"Nothing makes up for their loss but we are providing all the support we can, both emotionally and practically, to help them cope, and I'm proud of the work our teams are doing there."

To add to Lonmin's woes, Deutsche Bank downgraded the stock from "hold" to "sell" following reports it is considering a billion dollar (£640 million) emergency fundraising move.

It estimates that Lonmin will lose at least 50,000 ounces of production as a result of the crisis and now says it will make a loss this year, having previously expected a small profit.

Lonmin dismissed reports that it will need to raise funds as "speculation", yet fears remain that it may be forced to make some form of cash-call to shareholders as the closure of its biggest mine in South Africa puts a significant strain on its income.

The closure of the Marikana platinum mine is understood to be a significant hit to Lonmin as it accounts for around 90% of the group's output.

Lonmin is also believed to be asking for leniency from its banks as it struggles with debts.

The mining giant was already under pressure before the closure after platinum prices slumped in the past year as demand for the metal has dropped from car-makers in the crisis-hit eurozone.

Its plight has also been compounded in the past week by news that chief executive Ian Farmer has been admitted to hospital with a "serious illness" and will be temporarily replaced by chairman Roger Phillimore.

Shares have now nearly halved in the past year.

Lonmin is also approaching its end of financial year, which will trigger compliance tests with its banks.

The group said last week that it "continues to monitor the position closely regarding the additional pressure which the current disruption to production may put on its bank debt covenants when they are next tested on 30 September".