Johannesburg - South African police are braced for possible
violence ahead of today's back-to-work deadline for striking workers at
Lonmin's flagship platinum mine, where 44 people died in labour strife last
month, most of them at the hands of police.
Mineworkers have been given until Monday to report for duty
after a month of wildcat industrial action but union officials suspected that
these calls would be ignored, increasing tensions at Lonmin's mines.
"The situation is tense. Anything can happen at any
given moment," police spokesperson Thulani Ngubane said.
Scores of police have been camped out near the mine for more
than three weeks since a bloody clash with the striking workers on August 16.
Ngubane said more could be called in should there be any sign of trouble.
Union officials said they had heard reports that the
striking miners, many of whom are unaffiliated with any known union, planned a
march in defiance of a "peace accord" signed by the mine management
and the main National Union of Mineworkers (Num).
The workers have vowed to stay off the job until they get
wages of R12 500 a month, double what they now earn.
"Our hope is that people will respect the peace accord
and return to work," said Num spokesperson Lesiba Seshoka. "People
have indicated that they wish to return to work but the high level of
intimidation has stopped them."
Num represents the majority of Lonmin's 28 000 employees but
its dominance has been questioned by the militant Association of Mineworkers
and Construction Union (Amcu), which has been blamed for instigating the strike
in its bid for more members.
Amcu and representatives of the striking workers refused to
add their names to last week's "peace accord". Amcu officials did not
answer their phones on Sunday.
Negotiations on the wage demand are scheduled to start at
noon on Monday but only if the miners return to work first.
"If workers don't come to work, we will still pursue
the peace path. That is very, very necessary for us to achieve because this
level of intimidation and people fearing for their lives obviously does not
help anybody," said Barnard Mokwena, Lonmin's executive vice president in
charge of human resources.
"For now it is a fragile process and we need to nurture
it," he said.
Conceding to the demands in full would set Lonmin back an
additional $30m a year and set a precedent for other producers, such as Anglo
Platinum [JSE:AMS] and Impala Platinum Holdings [JSE:IMP], to do the same.
The world's third largest platinum producer is already under
financial pressure to restart operations as its idle mines are costing it 2,500
ounces in daily lost production.
Lonmin [JSE:LON], which has had $524m knocked off its market
capitalisation since the strike started, has already cautioned that it is in
danger of breaching debt covenants and may need to turn to the markets.
Analysts say it could need between $1bn and $1.25bn in new
capital, or nearly three quarters of its current stock market value.
*Follow Fin24 on Twitter, Facebook, Google+ and Pinterest.