By CARLEY PETESCH, Associated Press
MARIKANA, South Africa (AP) — Lonmin miners celebrated a wage deal Wednesday that ended a deadly and prolonged strike but labor unrest continued with police firing rubber bullets and tear gas at strikers at a different platinum mine.
Some warned that the deal struck by Lonmin to give its 28,000 workers up to 22 percent pay raises would incite other miners to similar action. Lonmin also employs 10,000 contract workers not covered by the agreement.
"It sets a dangerous precedent and illegal actions to enforce wage increases could occur at other mines in future," said Gideon du Plessis, head of the mainly white Solidarity mining union.
The Lonmin agreement reached Tuesday night does not resolve the union rivalry that was at the heart of the violence, nor the class struggle that it exposed between a small, politically connected black elite and the majority of impoverished South Africans who feel the government has failed to keep its promise of a better life for all.
And the political and economic fallout likely will hurt the re-election campaign of South African President Jacob Zuma, whom miners blame for the police shootings of 112 striking miners, which killed 34 on Aug. 16. The total number of those who died during the strike rose to 46 Wednesday when a woman died in hospital after being shot on Saturday when police raided the Wonderkop settlement, according to mediator Bishop Joe Seoka.
At the Lonmin mine at Marikana, the world's third largest platinum mine, thousands gathered and sang the national anthem in piercing heat, holding up umbrellas to block the sun. Workers cheered and laughed as they walked into the mine stadium. Many hurt by the no-work, no-pay stoppage said they would be happy to return to work Thursday.
Lonmin agreed to a gross pay of 11,078 rand ($1,385) for rock drill operators who had been demanding a monthly take-home wage of 12,500 rand ($1,560). They also agreed to give all miners a 2,000 rand ($250) bonus for returning to work. A statement from the company said that miners will receive between 11 and 22 percent wage increases.
"If everyone is happy with the money, I am also happy with them because I am here to work for my children," said miner Stan Chayisa.
"I am so happy," said Mvenyeza Luhlaziyao, 48, a painter at the mines. "I try to forget the past and continue to move forward ... We must continue to build the company and management must listen to us in the future. People didn't care about us, that's why we decided to go on strike."
Zolisa Bodlani, one of the strike leaders, said the agreement is noteworthy. "If no people were killed, I'd say this was a great achievement," he said. "We've never in the history of South Africa had such an increase of pay as 22 percent."
Two wives of winch operators expressed their pleasure that the strike had ended. "The weeks without pay were terrible," said Plaxedes Matemba, a 39-year-old mother of two.
"It will make life better for us," she said of the pay raise. "We expect better changes again ... there will be no more provoking, no more noise, no more beatings," she said.
Still, many expressed anger toward the government, questioning Zuma's leadership as he prepares for a crucial governing party congress in December that will decide whether he gets another term as leader of Africa's richest economy.
They "brought the police to shoot us, so I don't believe the current president of South Africa should be the president again. There must be change," said miner Michael Maleswa.
Another, Johannes Hlkela, said "I don't believe he (Zuma) should be president again because of the way he has killed people like animals."
Strikers had spoken against the huge economic inequality and the government's failure to address massive unemployment and poverty. Most Lonmin miners live in tin shacks without water or electricity.
The strike has highlighted the country's widening gap between the majority poor and a small black elite enriched, often corruptly, through shares in mines.
Government plans in the aftermath of the brutal apartheid regime to share the wealth of a country that provides 75 percent of the world's platinum, a fourth of its chrome and is in the top 10 of gold producers have made a small handful of blacks billionaires, joining a small white elite that continues to control an economy dominated by mineral resources and agriculture.