Rustenburg - Managers, unions and workers at the Lonmin [JSE:LON] Marikana platinum mine started talks with South African government mediators on Wednesday as thousands of miners continued a strike that has left 44 dead.
Around 50 people from various delegations filled the town hall in Rustenburg, near the North West province mine, for the first all-encompassing talks on the strike.
Meanwhile only 7.7% of the mine's 28 000 employees showed up for work on Wednesday, similar to the low turnout of 8% on Tuesday.
The situation on the ground was "still peaceful", said Lonmin spokeswoman Sue Vey. "I don't expect everyone to work today."
Police opened fire on striking workers at the mine on August 16, killing 34, after an escalating stand-off between rival unions that had already killed 10 people, including two police officers.
The incident was the worst day of police violence in South Africa since the end of white-minority apartheid rule in 1994.
The parties are describing Wednesday's talks as a bid to reach a "peace accord" to stop the unrest at the mine and pave the way for negotiations to end the strike that began on August 10.
Vey told AFP the closed-door meetings were a "first step and an instrument to move together".
"Everyone wants it to be a success," she said.
"I'm very optimistic because this is the first time that all the parties are meeting. We are positive," said mediator Bishop Jo Seoka from the South African Council of Churches before entering the venue.
Workers, who claim they earn R4 000 a month, are demanding a raise to R12 500. Lonmin, the world's number three platinum producer, says the workers already earn around 10 000 rand when bonuses and other compensation are included.
However wage discussions would not be on the Wednesday agenda, Lonmin said.
"At the end of the day it's all about public order. We cannot discuss wages when people are intimidated. It's all a matter of it has to go back to normality before anything can be discussed," said company spokeswoman Vey.
The labour ministry is facilitating the talks between managers at the London-listed firm and unions including the National Union of Mineworkers (NUM) and smaller rival the Association of Mineworkers and Construction Union (AMCU).
Representatives of miners who say they do not belong to any union are also attending.
High Commissioner Dineo Ntoane of neighbouring Lesotho, a country completely surrounded by South Africa, also came to the talks "to represent the interests of the Basothos, to ensure that rights as legal citizens are respected," she said.
"As we know that there are a lot of Basothos who work on South African mines," she added.
Three of those killed in the bloodshed were Basothos, said Ntoane. South African authorities earlier said four miners from Lesotho had been killed, and one from another neighbouring country, Swaziland.
Meanwhile the court case for over 250 miners arrested after the strikes continued in Pretoria, where the prosecution argued for a postponement pending further investigation. Ntoane said 25 of these were Basotho.
The men face charges ranging from public violence to murder, while 78 others who were hospitalised after the clashes with police at the mine on August 16 will be arrested once they are discharged.
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