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Lonmin workers relieved, but strike took heavy toll

By Claudine Renaud

MARIKANA, South Africa (AFP) - Workers at platinum giant Lonmin's Marikana mine in South Africa voiced relief Wednesday at the deal that ended a deadly strike there, but said the victory had taken a heavy toll in lives and livelihoods.

The illegal strike left 45 people dead -- 34 of them shot by the police -- and left striking workers without pay for more than a month.

As thousands of miners gathered Wednesday at a stadium in the dusty mining town of Marikana to get details from their leaders on the wage deal signed the night before, the victorious mood was tinged with a grim awareness of the price they had paid.

Under the deal, miners will get pay rises of between 11 and 22 percent and a 2,000-rand bonus -- still shy of their demand for a monthly salary of 12,500 rand (1,160 euros, $1,520).

"This is not a fortune but at least it is better than nothing," said Roger, 40, who has worked at Lonmin for seven years.

"The atmosphere will change, I guess, because the problem was with the wages. The wages are (now) better, it's almost fair," he said.

Peter, one of the 3,000 rock drillers who launched the strike, was happy workers were able to sit at the same table with management to negotiate the wage deal.

"I feel very happy and strong, the board agreed to talk to us," he said.

Despite the sweltering heat in the town, northwest of the capital Pretoria, the crowd was patient, focused and determined. They all waited to the very end to hear how much they would finally make after the gruelling work stoppage.

It won't be the 12,500 rand that had been a rallying slogan for the workers since the strike began on August 10.

But "in two years, it must be 12,500 rand. We have told the management," one of the workers' representatives, Zolisa Bodlani, told the workers.

With the strike over, the workers want the police out of the mining town. Memories of the police brutality of August 16 -- which followed violence in which 10 people, including two policemen, were killed -- are still fresh.

"Down with the police! Down with the strike!" workers chanted Wednesday.

"When people go back to work tomorrow, nobody must be terrorised and assaulted," said one of the leaders.

Not all of Lonmin's workers joined the protest marches during the strike.

Dimakatso, whose salary as a Lonmin security guard is just enough to pay rent for a shack without a bathroom, says most of the miners stayed home in fear of violence.

Workers "are happy to be able to return to work because there is no threat now," she said.

At the stadium, under multi-coloured umbrellas, many workers sported green T-shirts with the acronym AMCU -- a smaller Association of Mineworkers and Construction Union (AMCU), whose rivalry with the powerful National Union of Mineworkers (NUM) was partly blamed for the strike-related violence.

A group stormed the podium dancing and chanting in praise of the AMCU.

Most miners, however, want to turn the page.

Pakela, 32, held his baby daughter, the youngest of his four children, and recounted the day he saw police shoot 34 of his colleagues at a nearby hill.

"It's a long story, it's very sore. If I start explaining, I start to recall and getting hurt again," he said at a worker residence. But he said he feels "much better today".

There is still no activity at the mine shafts, set to re-open on Thursday.

The first shift clocks in at 7:00 am (0500 GMT), at the back of their 2,000-rand, one-off bonus. Not a lot after six weeks without pay.

Outside Rowland shaft, where the strike started, George was clearly not very happy with the deal.

"I feel OK, just OK," he said. "We are not as rich as we would have wanted."