27 percent of S. African miners return to work

Associated Press
Women from a group of churchgoers  wail at the site, Sunday Aug. 19, 2012 at the Lonmin platinum mine, background, near Rustenburg, South Africa, during a memorial service for 34 dead striking miners who were shot and killed by police last Thursday.   Miners must return to work Monday or face being fired from the  mine where rivalry between unions has exploded into violence.  (AP Photo/Denis Farrell)
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MARIKANA, South Africa (AP) — Only 27 percent of workers answered an ultimatum to return for morning shifts Monday at a platinum mine where police shot and killed 34 striking workers last week, but Lonmin PLC said they were enough for it to resume operations that had been shut down for at least three days.

Meanwhile, women continued searching for loved ones missing in the violence that shocked South Africans. Some women protested in front of a court, demanding the release of husbands, brothers and sons among the 259 arrested miners expected to be charged with public violence.

Nombulelo Jali wept hysterically in front of the court and said she could not find her husband Themba Khalo Jali, 40, who she said police arrested on Thursday, the day of the shootings.

"We have frantically searched everywhere and we can't locate him. Police took him," 37-year-old Jali said through tears to the South African Press Association.

A chorus of wails erupted as trucks carrying the arrested miners arrived, with some women praying and others crying loudly. The mineworkers were singing in the police trucks.

Police instructed the protesters to leave the court building and they assembled in the street outside, singing and dancing before police officers holding shields to form a barricade at the court entrance.

A horde of politicians including 10 Cabinet ministers descended on the Marikana mine about 70 kilometers (40 miles) northwest of Johannesburg on Monday. The ministers came to help bereaved families make burial arrangements and get counseling. A group of opposition politicians from several parties made the trip to investigate the scene of the killings that the South African Civil Society called "the horror of South Africa's first post-apartheid massacre."

President Jacob Zuma announced a week of national mourning starting Monday and urged the country to "reflect on the sanctity of human life" and "unite against violence from whatever quarter." Ten people, including police officers and mine workers, had died in violence at the mines in the days before the shootings.

He has instigated a judicial commission of inquiry into what happened on Thursday, when police say they acted in self-defense to fire a barrage of live bullets at a group of charging miners including one armed with a pistol and others with homemade spears and clubs.

Lonmin said in a statement Monday: "Lonmin can confirm that work at its Marikana operations resumed today as significant numbers of employees returned to work." The company's shares have taken a hard hit since the strikes that started more than 10 days ago.

Sue Vey, spokeswoman for a Lonmin public relations company, said 27 percent of the mine's morning workers made it to work on Monday. She said it is not known how many of the returning workers were among some 3,000 rock-drill operators, called RDOs, who were striking for higher wages amid a dispute pitting the country's oldest and biggest trade union against a startup. Nor could she say how many of the company's 25,000 other workers and 10,000 contractors, who were not striking, had showed up.

Lonmin warned Sunday that Monday's "final ultimatum provides RDOs with a last opportunity to return to work or face possible dismissal."

Last year, Lonmin fired all 9,000 workers when a similar dispute over union representation stopped work at its nearby Karee mine, then asked them all to reapply and rehired all but a few considered responsible for the strike.

Lonmin has lost 18.5 percent of its share value since the strike began Aug. 10.

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