South Africa miners face Lonmin dismissal deadline

There is concern that the deadline could raise tensions at the mine

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Striking workers at the South African mine where police shot dead 34 miners on Thursday face a deadline to go back to work or face dismissal.

A statement from mine owner Lonmin said 3,000 workers were striking illegally and must report to work on Monday.

The company delayed the deadline from Friday in light of the killings at the Marikana platinum mine, north-west of Johannesburg.

Some miners said the new ultimatum was an insult to their dead colleagues.

President Jacob Zuma on Sunday declared a week of national mourning.

According to Lonmin, around 27% of workers expected on Monday morning arrived for their shifts. But it is not clear how many of these were among those who went on strike last week.

The workers are those doing maintenance work to ensure areas are safe for work to resume, Lonmin spokeswoman Sue Vey told the BBC.

The mound where protesters were gathered last week was empty on Monday morning, but there was no sign that work at the mine had begun again, the BBC's Navdip Dhariwal reports from the scene.

About 3,000 rock-drill operators (RDOs) at the mine walked out more than a week ago in support of demands for higher pay.

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

'Final ultimatum'

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

Jacob Zuma, 17 August President Zuma says South Africa is "in shock"

"The final ultimatum provides RDOs with a last opportunity to return to work or face possible dismissal," Lonmin said in a statement on Sunday.

"Employees could therefore be dismissed if they fail to heed the final ultimatum."

It also told 25,000 non-striking workers and 10,000 contractors, all of whom have been unable to work as a result of the violence, that police consider it safe to return to duty.

Initially, employees were asked to report only for their morning shift. Staff have also been issued with contact numbers to report cases of intimidation.

"The safety and security of our employees is paramount and nobody will be asked to report for duty if the police consider them in danger of reprisals," chief financial officer Simon Scott said.

"The vast majority of our workforce, and their families, who rely on our mine for their livelihood, have now been unable to work for more than a week."

'Insult'

Some miners dismissed the call as disrespectful to their colleagues who died.

Map

"Expecting us to go back is like an insult. Many of our friends and colleagues are dead, then they expect us to resume work. Never," worker Zachariah Mbewu told AFP news agency.

He said workers would only go back when management gave them what they sought.

However, Lesiba Seshoka from the National Union of Mineworkers (NUM) told the BBC that many miners had agreed to return to work.

"There are just a few who have indicated that it still too early - they are quite emotional about what happened", Mr Seshoka said.

The NUM is the traditional union in the area but some miners have accused it of abandoning their concerns and have turned to a newer, more radical union.

The circumstances that led police to open fire on Thursday remain unclear, but reports from eyewitnesses suggest the shooting took place after a group of demonstrators, some holding clubs and machetes, rushed at a line of police officers.

Police, armed with automatic rifles and pistols, fired dozens of shots.

At least 78 people were injured in the violence and some 250 people were arrested.

A judicial inquiry has been ordered to shed light on why the dispute escalated into violence.

Announcing the week of mourning on Sunday, Mr Zuma said the nation was in "shock and pain".

Flags will fly at half mast at all flag stations in South African and missions outside the country during the mourning period, which will last from Monday until next Sunday.

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