Striking Lonmin workers face Monday deadline to return

Aug 19, 2012, 10:02 AM EDT
REUTERS/Siphiwe Sibeko

* Employees could be sacked if they do not report for duty

* Union boss not sure if workers will return

* South Africa to hold inquiry into killings

By Jon Herskovitz

JOHANNESBURG, Aug 19 (Reuters) - Striking workers at theworld's No. 3 platinum producer Lonmin , where44 people have been killed in a week of violence, face possibledismissal if they do not return to work on Monday, a companyspokeswoman said.

Last week, 34 people were gunned down by police in a hail ofbullets from automatic weapons when authorities moved in against3,000 striking workers armed with machetes, spears and handgunswho were camped on a hill at Lonmin's Marikana mine, about 100km (60 miles) northwest of Johannesburg..

"The final ultimatum has been extended to Monday, the 20thfollowing Thursday's events," spokeswoman Gillian Findlay saidon Sunday.

"Employees may be dismissed if they fail to heed the finalultimatum," she said.

London-based Lonmin accounts for 12 percent of globalplatinum output. It is already struggling with low prices, weakdemand and may miss its annual production target of 750,000ounces as the quarter to the end of September is typically itsbest.


The strike was sparked by a turf war between the powerfulNational Union of Mineworkers and the upstart Association ofMineworkers and Construction Union, which has accused NUM ofcaring more about politics than workers in mine shafts.

NUM has been a breeding ground of leaders for the rulingAfrican National Congress party and one of the union's formertop officials now sits on Lonmin's board as a non-executivedirector.

Ten people were killed prior to the police shooting,including a NUM shop steward who was hacked to death.

NUM General Secretary Frans Baleni, on a nationallytelevised talk show, said on Sunday he was not sure if theminers would return to work.

The deadly protest could also hurt the ANC and itslong-standing labour allies by laying bare workers' anger overenduring inequalities in Africa's biggest economy.

Ousted ANC youth leader Julius Malema turned up the heat onhis rival President Jacob Zuma at the weekend by telling a groupof cheering miners at Marikana that Zuma was more interested inprotecting mine owners than workers.

Platinum sells for about $1,440 an ounce but a workerdrilling underground at tonnes of rock face to extract it makesless than $500 a month. 

Zuma has called the killings "shocking" and called for acommission of inquiry to look into the matter.

Zuma has declared a week-long period of mourning from Mondayto commemorate the lives of South Africans who have diedviolently, including those killed at the Lonmin mine.