Lonmin workers trickle back to mine after 44 killed

Aug 20, 2012, 7:07 AM EDT

* National period of mourning declared

* Employees could be sacked if they do not return to work

* Shares extend steep losses, platinum price at 6-week highs

By Ed Stoddard

JOHANNESBURG, Aug 20 (Reuters) - A quarter of the workforcereturned on Monday to the Marikana platinum mine where 44 menwere killed last week in clashes that evoked memories ofapartheid-era violence.

Mine owner Lonmin has threatened about3,000 striking workers with dismissal if they did not show up atMarikana, 100 kilometres (60 miles) northwest of Johannesburg,where 34 miners armed with spears, machetes and handguns weregunned down on Thursday in a hail of police fire..

Ten people were killed prior to the police shooting,including a shop steward from the country's biggest union, theNational Union of Mineworkers (NUM), who was hacked to death.

The mayhem was sparked by a spreading battle for membershipbetween the NUM and the upstart Association of Mineworkers andConstruction Union, which has accused its rival of caring moreabout politics and personal enrichment than workers.

Investigators appointed by President Jacob Zuma, who hasdeclared a week of mourning, are expected at the mine.

Lonmin, the world's third-largest platinum producer, said ina statement that, with unions, it would address a newsconference at 1200 GMT "in a bid to attract people back to work.It said 27.3 percent at the Marikana mine, which employs 28,000people, had returned to work.

Separately, more than 250 people began appearing in courtnear the mine to face charges including murder, attempted murderand assault related to the deadliest security incident since theend of apartheid in 1994.


Local media said about 100 women appeared outside court toappeal for leniency for the men inside who are often the solebreadwinners for extended families trying to make ends meet ontheir meagre mining salaries.

NUM has said its feud with the militant AMCU union, seen asbehind the Lonmin strike, could spread, threatening a setbackfor labour relations in South Africa.

This could in turn feed into lower levels of investment,possibly lower growth, and a deteriorating fiscal balance.



Hundreds of police have camped out at the mine, patrollingin small convoys of vehicles and conducting aerial surveillanceby helicopter.

Flags flew at half-mast to remember the dead, who includedminers and police.

Members of parliament from all political parties, togetherwith leaders from various churches, are expected to hold amemorial service in Parliament's Old Assembly Chamber tomorrowin honour of the victims of the violent protests, a top ANCofficial said.

London-based Lonmin, which accounts for 12 percent of globalplatinum output, was forced last week to freeze mining as aresult of the violence, but essential services such asventilation have been maintained so the mines can quicklyrestart production.

Company officials could not immediately say when ore wouldstart coming out of the ground again.

The stoppage has driven the platinum price tosix-week highs over $1,460 an ounce, but much of the industryremains unprofitable at a time when it is grappling with a waveof labour unrest.

Lonmin had already slashed spending plans before the latestflare-up of violence and may miss its annual production targetof 750,000 ounces.

South African junior miner Royal Bafokeng Platinum is the latest miner in the sector to signal cutbacks. Itreported a 60 percent drop in first-half earnings on Monday, hitby the slump in platinum prices and reduced production, and saidit would accelerate its cost cuts.