The world’s No. 3 platinum producer, Lonmin, yesterday told workers to return to work or face dismissal, saying police deemed it safe to return to duty after 44 people were killed in a week of violence at one of its South African mines.
Police shot 34 dead on Thursday after moving in with automatic weapons against workers armed with spears, machetes and handguns in clashes which have brought back memories of the apartheid era.
About 3,000 striking workers face an ultimatum to show up yesterday or face being fired. A company spokeswoman could not immediately say if any were returning to work.
The situation remains tense and union leaders have also said they were not sure if workers would report to the shafts at Lonmin’s Marikana mine, about 100km northwest of Johannesburg.
“The company is communicating with the rest of its local workforce who have not been on strike, but have been unable to work because of violence, that police consider it safe for them to report for duty again,” Lonmin said in a statement.
“Initially, mining division employees will only be asked to report for the morning shift. Staff have also been issued with contact numbers to report any further incidents of intimidation,” the company added.
London-based Lonmin accounts for 12 percent of global platinum output. It is already struggling with low prices and weak demand. The company has slashed spending plans and may miss its annual production target of 21.26 tonnes.
The strike was sparked by a spreading battle for membership between the powerful National Union of Mineworkers and the upstart Association of Mineworkers and Construction Union, which has accused the miners’ union of caring more about politics and personal enrichment than the safety of the workers in mine shafts.
Ten people were killed prior to the police shooting, including a union shop steward who was hacked to death.