Striking workers at South Africa’s Lonmin platinum mine say they will return to work on Thursday after accepting a pay rise of 22 per cent.
The planned return to work, announced on Tuesday, will end more than five weeks of crippling and bloody industrial action that left at least 34 miners dead in a police crackdown last month.
Workers gathered at a football pitch near the Marikana mine, and cheered when they were informed of the pay offer, the Reuters news agency reported.
“The actual increase is about 22 per cent, which is very high,” said Bishop Jo Seoka, South African Council of Churches president who negotiated the talks between the miners and their employer.
“It’s a huge achievement. No union has achieved a 22 per cent increase before,” Zolisa Bodlani, a worker representative, told Reuters.
The wage strike, which started on August 10, had spread to other platinum and gold mines in the country, triggering growing concerns that the industrial action would dent the economy of Africa’s wealthiest country.
Al Jazeera’s Haru Mutasa, reporting from Marikana, said the offer amounted to about $1,200 a month.
She said despite the Lonmin miners’ promised return to work, there were still “big problems” in the platinum belt of the North West province.
Reporting from near the site of an Anglo American platinum mine in Rustenburg on Wednesday, she said a group of striking workers had tried to gather, but police were on site to stop them.
“Workers here say they want a pay increase just like their colleagues got at Lonmin Platinum mine.
“It was quite dramatic a few minutes ago. The police swooped onto this informal settlement [where the miners live], a police chopper circled the area. People who were out – gathering illegally according to the police – ran in all different directions. Police fired tear gas, stun grenades, rubber bullets were also used. So people just ran away.
“Everyone is basically still defiant,” Mutasa said. “They say that even though the police try to stop them from assembling, they will still try and gather and still go on strike because they want a pay increase as well.”
On Tuesday, police had also dispersed striking Anglo American workers from the same site.
Labour unrest in South Africa’s gold and platinum mining sectors this year has cost the industry $548m in lost output, Jacob Zuma, South Africa’s president, said on Monday.
Zuma blamed poor living and working conditions of miners on the apartheid past and the failures of mining companies to honour a charter to improve the lives of miners.
He also said that heavy-handed police tactics on striking miners should not prevent the miners’ right to protest.
“Government deployed law-enforcement agencies to stabilise the situation,” he said.
“This does not take away the rights of miners and residents to protest peacefully and unarmed as provided for, in the laws of the land. The agencies have been told to be firm but to respect the rights of residents and strikers.”
Zuma told reporters on Tuesday after an EU-South Africa summit meeting in Brussels that he understood why the violence could worry international investors but insisted his country remained a “destination for investment”.
“I believe that the manner in which we have swiftly attended to the situation, and we are now in full control – that must give comfort to investors,” he said.
The violence has left at least 45 people dead most of them striking miners. Unrest deepened last month when police called in to end a strike at Marikana opened fire on the miners, killing 34.
Prior to that incident, 10 people, including police officers, had been killed at the same mine. Police said they shot the miners in self-defence.
The government has apologised for the violence and instituted a commission of inquiry that is expected to unveil its findings next January.
The strike at Lonmin’s mine had severely affected production there, and taken a toll on the South African economy. But on Wednesday, the platinum producer opened more than 9 per cent higher on the Johannesburg Stock Exchange, following the wage agreement.
By 0705GMT, Lonmin’s shares were up 9.03 per cent at 94.32 rand, compared with a 0.48 per cent rise in the All-Share index, which hit a new high. South Africa’s rand was also up 0.25 per cent at 8.16 to the dollar compared with an 8.1795 close in New York on Tuesday.