MARIKANA, South Africa // The platinum producer Lonmin yesterday offered striking South African miners a one-time bonus as an incentive to immediately end their deadly six-week strike.
The world's third largest platinum mine proposed a 1,500 rand (Dh670) bonus in addition to an offer already made in response to the workers' wage demands.
The strike, which started on August 10 and spread to other platinum and gold-mining firms in the country, has increased fears the industrial action will dent the economy of Africa's wealthiest country.
On Monday, the workers agreed for the first time since they went on strike to lower their monthly salary demand of 12,500 rand.
"The workers are saying they want the general miner's basic salary [minus housing allowance and health insurance] to go to 10,900 rand," a worker said in Marikana before the resumption of wage negotiations.
Lonmin is also offering wage increases of between 9 and 21 per cent, which is still below the workers' original demands. It has said the 12,500 rand demand is unaffordable and would result in a trade-off between wages and jobs.
The 1,500 rand bonus would be conditional on the miners returning to work today.
Negotiators met until the early hours of yesterday seeking to end the damaging strike which has pitched the British mining group against the miners in a sometimes violent dispute. Police shot dead 34 protesters during clashes on August 16.
Yesterday, what one mediator described as "make-or-break" negotiations resumed after non-unionised worker representatives consulted about 5,000 miners at a stadium in Marikana town.
Gideon Du Plessis, the secretary general of the mainly-white union Solidarity, said "the workers don't have a choice" but to accept the final offer. "They know Lonmin cannot give more and if they don't accept, they will lose their jobs," he added.
Lonmin, which slashed its platinum sales forecasts for this year because of the strike, has warned that if the stoppage continued, about 40,000 jobs would be on the line.
Lonmin is at the centre of a wave of unrest to hit the mining sector in recent weeks, with tensions forcing several other firms to suspend operations in the country's platinum belt of north-western Rustenburg.
South Africa's president, Jacob Zuma, warned on Monday that the country could ill afford a recession over mine stoppages.
He told a conference of the country's powerful Cosatu labour group that 4.5 billion rand had been lost in gold and platinum production this year, and a further 118 million rand in the coal sector.
Mining is the backbone of South Africa's economy. It directly employs around 500,000 people and, when related activities are included, accounts for nearly one-fifth of gross domestic product.
Following a security crackdown in the mining region at the weekend, tensions eased slightly and mines that had been forced to close reopened on Monday and yesterday.
Anglo American Platinum, the world's leading platinum producer, resumed operations yesterday after it shut down five mines last week over security fears.