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Signs of compromise in South Africa mining standoff

Strikes over pay at South African gold mines have entered their second day with the standoff severely crippling the industry. There have been signs, however, that the union and the mines are considering compromise.

There have been no reports of violence since the strike began on Tuesday, with seven gold mine companies heavily affected. It was revealed on Wednesday two of those - Pan African Resources and Village Main Reef - had agreed to wage increases of between 7.5 and 8.0 percent with their workers at two mines.

It falls far short of the 60 percent hike demanded by the National Union of Mineworkers (NUM), which represents more than 80,000 miners. The NUM stated its demands were open to negotiation, but denied media reports it could go as low as 10 percent.

"We just said we would be willing to ease our demands, but it must be a double-digit increase that is worth the workers' while," spokesman Lesiba Seshoka told the South African Press Association.

Joseph Mathunjwa, leader of the rival Association of Mineworkers and Construction Union (AMCU), told AFP: "All AMCU will demand is a living wage."

The mining companies had previously offered a rise of around 10 percent of the NUM's initial demands, sparking the strike.

Sign of hope in early negotiation

The early movement by Pan African Resources and Village Main Reef to offer increased wages came as a sign of hope for the Chamber of Mines, which represents industry employers.

"That the producers and the unions can find one another in the interests of preserving these operations indicates our mutual desire to achieve an affordable and sustainable settlement," Elize Strydom, the chamber's chief negotiator, said in a statement.

Stoppages have proved common in the nation's mining industry. South Africa's production of the world's gold has shrunk from 68 percent in 1970 to six percent last year, and the industry is experiencing sluggish growth and is rife with unemployment.

A six-week period of labor unrest in 2012 led to the death of 46 people, and Harmony Gold Mining Company chief executive officer Graham Briggs urged the demonstrations to stay violence-free.

"We are encouraged by the responsible and peaceful conduct of employees engaged in the strike, and urge all parties to uphold the law and all agreements," Briggs said.

ph/ccp (AFP, AP)