S.African strikers face ultimatum after mine shootings

By Sibongile Khumalo
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By Sibongile Khumalo

8/20/2012 5:20:00 AM -

MARIKANA, South Africa (AFP) - An ultimatum issued by platinum giant Lonmin to workers to end a wildcat strike runs out Monday after the London-listed company ordered employees back to work at a South African mine where police killed 34 people.

Miners however remained defiant after the worst episode of police violence since the apartheid era, which President Jacob Zuma said will be officially mourned for seven days.

Lonmin said the call to staff was "a last opportunity to return to work" at its shut-down Marikana mine where union rivalry escalated into a police crackdown and more bloodshed on Thursday after 10 people died just days earlier.

"Employees could therefore be dismissed if they fail to heed the final ultimatum," warned the world's number three platinum producer.

But miners who first downed tools at the Marikana mine on August 10 pledged to press on with their wage demands, and called the order to return to work "an insult" to colleagues who were gunned down by police.

"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," said worker Zachariah Mbewu.

"Some are in prison and hospitals. Tomorrow (Monday) we are going back to the mountain (protest site), not underground, unless management gives us what we want."

Lonmin's Monday deadline coincides with the start of a week-long national mourning announced Sunday by Zuma.

Flags will be lowered to half mast and an official day for nationwide memorial services held on Thursday.

The violence at the mine stems from a conflict between the powerful National Union of Mineworkers and the upstart Association of Mineworkers and Construction Union (AMCU), which is calling for a tripling of wages.

Thursday's crackdown left 34 dead, 78 wounded and 259 detained, and boosted the death toll to 44 after the 10 earlier deaths which included two police officers.

Workers say they are waiting to hear from mine bosses, whose ultimatum Sunday was an extension of a previous order to return.

Police have claimed self-defence and several probes have been launched, including Zuma announcing a judicial commission of inquiry.

A team of his ministers will also head to Marikana on Monday to "coordinate and lead all support" to grieving families.

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