South Africa mine execs back down on ultimatum to fire strikers

Managers at the Lonmin platinum mine in South Africa concede that firing striking miners during the official week of mourning could lead to more violence.

Most workers remain off the job as official week of mourning begins

Striking miners hold up their hands as they are addressed by former African National Congress Youth League president Julius Malema outside the Lonmin platinum mine in South Africa on Aug. 18, 2012. (Siphiwe Sibeko/Reuters )

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 miners shot by police last week, a spokesman for the presidency told The Associated Press on Tuesday.

Managers of Lonmin PLC platinum mine had ordered strikers to report for duty by 7 a.m. Tuesday or get fired, even as some family members still were 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 Minister in the Presidency Collins Chabane convinced managers of Lonmin PLC platinum mine not to act on the ultimatum during a week of national mourning that began Monday. 

Two men who survived the mass shooting by police say a traditional healer told the strikers that police bullets would not harm them if they used traditional medicine, a South African newspaper reported.

The two survivors told the Daily Dispatch that many of the miners drank a brown muti, or traditional medicine, to strengthen them ahead of the confrontation with police.

Source: Associated Press

The argument made was that "this is a period of mourning and they should be sensitive to that, and the management of Lonmin is part of that nation, and they agreed there would be no ultimatum so that the mourning process can be observed," Maloka said.

The mine's executive vice-president Mark Munroe told TalkRadio 702 FM early Tuesday that those who did not report for work will be punished, but not necessarily 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."

1/3 of workers on the job

Sue Vey, a public relations specialist representing Lonmin, said about 33 per cent of workers expected for the morning shift reported for work Tuesday, up only slightly on 30 per cent who reported 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 Tuesday. Some 3,000 rock drill operators started the strike on Aug. 10, demanding higher wages.

Lonmin said the mine had resumed operations on Monday.

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 actually 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.

London-registered Lonmin, the world's third-largest platinum producer whose shares have taken a hard knock, already has said that the strike has caused the company to miss its production target for the year of 750,000 ounces.