Marikana - Negotiators seeking to end a damaging miners' strike have made significant progress in lengthy talks, with hopes of a solution by the end of the week, a mediator said on Tuesday.
"We have made a fair amount of progress," said Afzul Soobedaar, a senior member of the independent mediating commission CCMA.
"On the basis of the progress made, the prognosis for resolution of the matter is much more possible than it was previously," he added, while insisting there was an agreed news blackout on the content of the talks
Soobedaar told reporters after the talks broke up overnight Monday that there was now was an "expectation" by both parties of an agreement "before this week is out".
The strike has pitched British mining group Lonmin [JSE:LON] against striking miners seeking better pay in a sometimes violent dispute that has crippled platinum production at the company's Marikana mine in South Africa's North West province.
President Jacob Zuma warned Monday that the country could ill afford a recession over mine stoppages.
Zuma told a conference of the country's powerful Cosatu labour group that R4.5bn had been lost in gold and platinum production this year and a further R118m in the coal sector.
Lonmin became the epicentre of a wave of unrest to hit the vital mining sector in recent weeks, with tensions forcing several firms to suspend operations in the country's platinum belt of northwestern Rustenburg.
The striking miners at the Marikana mine have agreed for the first time to lower their monthly salary demand of R12 500, the mediator said on Monday.
With calmer heads emerging for the first time since police gunned down 34 Lonmin protesters last month, Aquarius Platinum [JSE:AQP] and chrome miner Xstrata reopened two mines Monday.
The world's top producer Anglo Platinum [JSE:AMS], which last week pulled down shutters on five mines in the platinum belt, said it would re-start operations on Tuesday.
Zuma urged striking mine workers and employers to find a solution to a spike in labour troubles that has flared into bloodshed and led to mine closures.
The government on Friday announced that it would no longer tolerate the unrest and ordered security forces to clamp down on illegal gatherings, weapons, threats and incitement.
Early on Monday police arrested 42 people for embarking on an illegal strike at a shaft belonging to Royal Bafokeng Platinum.
South African police also barred firebrand Julius Malema from a rally of striking miners.
The rabble-rousing Malema was turned back by armed police, who gave him 10 minutes to leave, as he was about to enter a stadium where workers had gathered in Marikana.
The former youth leader was axed from Zuma's ruling ANC party but has grabbed the spotlight during South Africa's mining unrest by using the events to fire up worker frustrations and lobby for wildcat stoppages.
The London-listed Lonmin, the world's third-largest platinum producer, announced it expected annual sales of between 685,000-700,000 ounces of platinum. That compared with its previous prediction of 750,000 ounces.
Acting chief executive Simon Scott warned that the strike could spark more job losses at the mine, as the firm cancelled a contract for 1 200 jobs. Lonmin had warned a protracted strike threatened 40 000 jobs in South Africa.
Talks mediator Soobedaar said the talks between workers and management would resume on Tuesday afternoon, stressing that "negotiations have advanced since last week."
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