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South African miners return to work

Striking miners hold weapons as they wait to be addressed by former African National Congress Youth League President Julius Malema outside a South African mine in Rustenburg, 100 km northwest of Johannesburg.

JOHANNESBURG — A quarter of the workforce returned today to the Marikana platinum mine where 44 men were killed last week in clashes that evoked memories of apartheid-era violence.

Mine owner Lonmin has threatened about 3,000 striking workers with dismissal if they did not show up at Marikana, 100 kilometres northwest of Johannesburg, where 34 miners armed with spears, machetes and handguns were gunned down last Thursday in a hail of police fire.

Ten people were killed prior to the police shooting, including a shop steward from the country’s biggest union, the National Union of Mineworkers, who was hacked to death.

The mayhem was sparked by a spreading battle for membership between the NUM and the upstart Association of Mineworkers and Construction Union, which has accused its rival of caring more about politics and personal enrichment than workers.

Investigators appointed by President Jacob Zuma, who has declared a week of mourning, are expected at the mine.

Lonmin, the world’s third-largest platinum producer, said in a statement that, with unions, it would address a news conference at 1200 GMT “in a bid to attract people back to work”. It said 27.3 per cent at the Marikana mine, which employs 28,000 people, had returned to work.

Separately, more than 250 people began appearing in court near the mine to face charges including murder, attempted murder and assault related to the deadliest security incident since the end of apartheid in 1994.

Local media said about 100 women appeared outside court to appeal for leniency for the men inside who are often the sole breadwinners for extended families trying to make ends meet on their meager mining salaries.

NUM has said its feud with the militant AMCU union, seen as behind the Lonmin strike, could spread, threatening a setback for labour relations in South Africa. (Reuters)

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