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Lonmin's South African platinum workers end strike

An unruly AMCU member (L) is removed from a gathering as other members are addressed by their leaders during a strike at Lonmin's Marikana p
An unruly AMCU member (L) is removed from a gathering as other members are addressed by their leaders during a strike at Lonmin's Marikana p

By Ed Stoddard

MARIKANA, South Africa (Reuters) - Workers at Lonmin's South African platinum shafts were ending a walkout, the company said on Wednesday, easing fears that a two-day strike could ignite fresh labor violence in the continent's largest economy.

Leaders of the Association of Mineworkers and Construction Union (AMCU) earlier told thousands of strikers at a rally to return to their posts, pending negotiations between the union and an independent mediator.

"(It) seems positive so far," Lonmin spokeswoman Sue Vey told Reuters, adding that workers were reporting for overnight shifts on Wednesday.

Labor unrest in the mineral-rich country slowed growth last year and analysts for international ratings agency Moody's said on Wednesday that further outbreaks of violence could damage the export competitiveness of South Africa's mining industry.

Tensions have been running high over looming job cuts and wage talks in the sector, complicated by a turf war between the AMCU and the National Union of Mineworkers (NUM) that contributed to deadly strikes at Lonmin and other platinum producers last year.

Addressing the rally at a dusty football pitch near Lonmin's Marikana mine 120 km (70 miles) northwest of Johannesburg, AMCU President Joseph Mathunjwa told strikers that the union would press for Lonmin management to recognize it as the majority union.

"AMCU does not sit on boardrooms. This is AMCU's boardroom," Mathunjwa said to roars of approval.

AMCU's affiliated workers at Lonmin were due to hold a mass meeting on Thursday.

UNION RIVALRY

Vey told reporters earlier on Wednesday that the company had not been issued with any formal demands related to the two-day walkout at all its 13 shafts.

"It seems to be union rivalry," she said.

The rivalry started early last year at another platinum producer, Impala Platinum, and spread to other mines.

The AMCU has been making inroads at several gold and platinum mines, with Lonmin saying this month that the organization controlled 70 percent of its South African workforce - ousting the NUM as the dominant union.

The challenge to NUM's dominance of the sector has also rattled the African National Congress (ANC), the NUM's ally in the struggle against apartheid, as the ruling party gears up for an election this time next year.

The AMCU has been able to poach miners who feel that its rival is focusing too much on its political ties and relations with management while not paying enough attention to shop-floor issues.

Since the start of the unrest, more than 50 people have been killed in labor violence, including 34 striking Marikana miners shot dead by police last August - the deadliest security incident since apartheid ended in 1994.

An NUM spokesman said on Tuesday that the latest strike appeared to stem from anger over the killing of an AMCU member in a Rustenburg tavern on Saturday.

Police kept a low profile on Wednesday, with only one mine security guard watching as the striking workers made their way to the football pitch.

"The police are shivering," shouted the marchers, wearing the signature emerald green shirts of the AMCU.

(Additional reporting by Joshua Nhlapo and Olivia Kumwenda; Writing by Sherilee Laxmidas and David Dolan; Editing by Jon Herskovitz and David Goodman)

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