Mine owners lift threat to sack strikers as South Africa mourns

As well as the 34 strikers shot dead by police, 78 were badly wounded and more than 250 were arrested

No striking miners will be fired in the week that South Africa officially mourns the killings of 44 men at a platinum mine, including 34 strikers shot by police, a spokesman for the presidency said yesterday.

The promise came in spite of a threat by the mine's owner that it would sack workers who failed to show up to work. Managers at the Lonmin platinum mine in Marikana, north-west of Johannesburg, had ordered strikers to report for duty by 7am yesterday or be fired, even as some family members were still searching for missing loved ones, not knowing whether they were dead or alive among some 250 arrested protesters or in one of the hospitals treating 78 people wounded in the police shootings that shocked the nation.

Harold Molaka said an inter-ministerial committee led by the Minister in the Presidency, Collins Chabane, convinced managers of Lonmin not to act on their ultimatum during a week of national mourning that began on Monday.

The mine's executive vice-president, Mark Munroe, told TalkRadio 702 FM that those who did not report for work would be punished, but would not necessarily face dismissal. "It won't help if Lonmin goes out and dismisses a whole lot of people for not coming to work today," he said. "It will set us back significantly in terms of violence, in terms of building trust."

Sue Vey, a spokesperson for Lonmin, said about a third of the workers expected for the morning shift reported for work yesterday, up only slightly on the 30 per cent who reported on Monday in response to an earlier ultimatum. Another publicist for Lonmin, Gillian Findlay, said that only 19.5 per cent of rock drill operators showed up yesterday. Some 3,000 rock drill operators started the strike on 10 August, demanding higher wages.

Lonmin said the mine had resumed operations on Monday. But Ms Vey said workers were mainly involved in sweeping, making areas safe and having briefings. Industry experts say a workforce of at least 80 per cent is needed to produce platinum.

The mine cannot operate without rock drill operators, who man the massive drills deep underground in the most dangerous job at the mine.

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