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Employees are trickling back to work under heavy security at South Africa’s Marikana platinum mine, where clashes with police left 34 dead and more than twice as many injured last week amid strife between striking workers and Lonmin PLC, the world’s third-largest platinum miner.
The London-based company said a third of Marikana’s 28,000-strong work force reported for duty on Tuesday, allowing a partial resumption of some operations but no return to production, and warned it may not meet debt covenants as a result of losses.
Tensions have built for months between platinum miners and workers in South Africa, where politics – at the union, local and national level – mix with high unemployment, sinking metals prices and booming costs to create a tinderbox for labour unrest.
“I think everyone is on tenterhooks in the platinum area,” said Bruce Dickinson, a partner with Webber Wentzel law firm in Johannesburg who specializes in the mining. “I don’t think people are viewing this as isolated; where it hasn’t hit yet, people are waiting to see if it does,” he said from Johannesburg.
South Africa President Jacob Zuma declared a week of mourning after the violence that occurred five days ago, 70 kilometres northwest of Johannesburg. Lonmin, meanwhile, backed off earlier threats to dismiss striking workers who didn’t return to work this week.
“Nothing is being done to risk the continued calm on the ground,” Lonmin said. “Given the traumatic events of the last 10 days this is a delicate process and it will take time for people to come to terms with what has happened.”
Rock drill workers went on strike at Marikana on Aug. 10, freezing production as they demanded that their wages be doubled.
Sinking prices for platinum – best known for its use in jewellery, but most commonly used in catalytic converters for automobiles – are pressuring South African miners as they struggle to contain ballooning costs.
Platinum traded at about $1,505 (U.S.) an ounce on Tuesday, 22 per cent off year ago levels of $1,919.
Price outlook concerns saw the world’s fourth-largest platinum miner, Aquarius Platinum, shutter two mines in as many weeks in June, including a mine in South Africa where three people were killed during a confrontation with what were believed to have been former workers.
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