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S.Africa Lonmin miners end strike, accept 22% pay raise

Miners at South Africa’s Lonmin platinum mine on Tuesday ended their strike in return for a 22 percent pay raise, after a nearly six-week standoff that had claimed 45 lives.

The industrial action which started on August 10 and spread to other platinum and gold mining firms had sparked deep political turmoil and fears about the economic impact on Africa’s wealthiest country.

Amid the bitter industrial standoff, police opened fire on striking miners, killing 34 on August 16 in the worst police shooting since the end of apartheid.

When news of the pay offer by the London-listed company was announced to workers at a stadium, thousands broke into song and dance, lifting their representatives on their shoulders in celebration.

A young man wrote on his palm “mission accomplished” and showed the message to television cameras.

After a round of fresh talks Tuesday, a negotiator had announced the workers had settled for a 22 percent wage rise and a $245 one-off bonus from the owners of the world’s third largest platinum mine.

“The actual increase is about 22 percent, which is very high,” said Bishop Jo Seoka, the president of the South African Council of Churches, who had brokered the talks between the miners and their employer.

“The workers are very happy with it, and so we believe that what has happened here has been a victory really for the workers, and they’re going to work on Thursday morning.”

Details of the full new salaries were yet to be released, but on Monday the workers had agreed for the first time since they went on strike to lower their monthly salary demand.

They resumed Tuesday afternoon with what one mediator called “make-or-break” negotiations. Seoka said the negotiators would still have to return for a final round of talks “to seal it off”.

More negotiations involving the unions would kick off in October, he said.

Gideon Du Plessis, secretary general of the mainly-white union Solidarity, said “the workers don’t have a choice… (but) to accept the final offer.”

“They know Lonmin cannot give more, and if they don’t accept, they will loose their jobs.”

Lomnin — which slashed its platinum sales forecasts for this year due to the strike — had warned that an extended job stayaway would cost some 40,000 jobs.

Lonmin became the epicentre of a wave of unrest to hit the vital mining sector in recent weeks, with tensions forcing several firms to suspend operations in the country’s platinum belt of northwestern Rustenburg.

President Jacob Zuma warned Monday that the country could ill afford a recession over mine stoppages.

Zuma told a conference of the country’s powerful Cosatu labour group that 4.5 billion rand ($548 million, 417 million euros) had been lost in gold and platinum production this year, and 118 million rand in the coal sector.

Following a weekend security crackdown in the mining region, tensions eased slightly and closed-down mines reopened Monday and Tuesday.

Anglo American Platinum, the world’s top platinum producer, resumed operations Tuesday after it shut down five mines last week over security fears.

Mining is the backbone of South Africa’s economy. It directly employs around 500,000 people and, once related activities are included, accounts for nearly one-fifth of gross domestic product.