MARIKANA, South Africa (Reuters) - The main union at Lonmin’s (LMI.L) (LONJ.J) South African platinum shafts told striking miners to return to work on Wednesday, potentially defusing a two-day wildcat action that had raised fears of a fresh wave of labor violence.
Leaders of the Association of Mineworkers and Construction Union (AMCU) told thousands of strikers at a rally to return to their posts, pending negotiations between the union and an independent mediator.
The miners looked likely to return for Wednesday’s night shift as instructed.
Further outbreaks of violence could damage the export competitiveness of South Africa’s mining industry, with a possible credit downgrade for Africa’s biggest economy, analysts at ratings agency Moody’s said in Johannesburg on Wednesday.
Tensions have been running high over looming job cuts and wage talks in the sector, complicated by a turf war between AMCU and its rival, the established 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.
Lonmin spokeswoman Sue Vey told reporters earlier that the company had not been issued with any formal demands relating 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 (IMPJ.J), and spread to other mines.
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; Writing by Sherilee Laxmidas and David Dolan; Editing by Jon Herskovitz and David Goodman