South Africa mine: Lonmin drops threat to fire workers

Striking platinum miners gather on 20 August 2012 at Lonmin's Marikana platinum mine
Image caption Workers at the mine are mourning the death of colleagues

Mining giant Lonmin has dropped its threat to fire workers who failed to return to work at a South African mine after deadly clashes last week.

The decision came after the South African government appealed to the firm to withdraw the ultimatum for workers at the Marikana mine.

Last week, police shot dead 34 strikers at the mine.

The country's parliament has held a special debate on the killings, amidst a national outcry.

President Jacob Zuma had already declared a week of national mourning and promised to appoint a commission of inquiry into the shooting.

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Media captionSue Vey, Lonmin: "It's not a case of backing down"

During the parliamentary debate, opposition Congress of the People (Cope) leader Mosiuoa Lekota said the shootings had left indelible scars that would not heal quickly.

"The tragedy was preventable, if only proactive and even-handed measures had been implemented by all parties," he said.

Mines Minister Susan Shabangu said companies should do more to improve the lives of workers.

"It surely cannot be correct that mining communities such as those of Marikana and other mining areas should see prosperity and conspicuous consumption by companies and mine bosses whilst they continue to experience poverty," she said, AFP news agency reports.

'Calming emotions'

On Tuesday morning, Mark Munroe, Lonmin's executive vice president, said the company had suspended plans to fire thousands of workers.

"I don't think it's going to contribute to a more stable environment if Lonmin goes out and puts deadlines and ultimatums and says we will fire everyone if no-one comes to work," he said.

A minister in Mr Zuma's office, Collins Chabane, said Lonmin had agreed to suspend its ultimatum in talks with the government.

"I think we need to try to temper the flare-up of emotions on all sides and try to find a reasonable solution to address the problems," he said on local radio, AFP news agency reports.

Lonmin said 33% of its 28,000-strong workforce showed up for work on Tuesday, the South African Press Association reports.

About 3,000 rock-drill operators walked out more than a week ago in support of demands for higher pay.

The strike was declared illegal by Lonmin, the world's third-largest platinum producer, and the mine was shut.

Clashes between strikers, some holding clubs and machetes, and police culminated on Thursday when officers armed with automatic rifles and pistols fired dozens of shots.

The miners, who are currently earning between 4,000 and 5,000 rand ($484-$605) a month, say they want their salary increased to 12,500 rand ($1,512).

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