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Miners rejoice

Isaac Mugabi (Reuters,AFP,AP)September 19, 2012

Thousands of miners in South Africa gathered at a stadium on Wednesday to celebrate a wage deal struck with mining company Lonmin that will see the workers get a pay increase of up to 22 percent.

Image: dapd

The pay rise agreement ended six weeks of violent labour unrest that killed at least 44 people at the Marikana Lonmin mines and rattled Africa's largest economy.

The miners sang the national anthem and traditional songs in the scorching sun on Wednesday at Marikana as a sign of victory and in anticipation of better times ahead.

As they walked into the Wonderkop stadium many seemed eager to return to work and relieved that the strikes that have been going on since mid-August had finally come to an end.

The agreement

After intensive negotiations between miners' representatives and Lonmin mine officials, an agreement was reached to avoid further financial losses for Lonmin and also address the miners' demands.

A statement issued by Lonmin gave details of the agreement. It includes a one-off bonus of 2,000 rand (185 Euro, $242), to help cover the weeks of not being paid while the miners were on strike, and an average rise in wages of between 11 and 22 percent effective from 1 October 2012.

Miners gather for a march in Rustenburg
The striking miners had vowed not return to work before their demands were metImage: Reuters

Concerns have been expressed that the Marikana wage increase could trigger a rash of pay demands across a mining sector already being squeezed by low metals prices and rising labor and electricity costs.

According to Hubertus von Welck from the Friedrich Naumann Fundation for Liberty in Johannesburg, the pay hike for Lonmin miners does not mean the crisis in the mining sector is over.

“The governing party (ANC) and the government in the beginning didn't take action at all, the crisis has been used by different factions within and outside the ANC to their own advantage,” von Welck told DW.

The “Malema” factor

ANC renegade Julius Malema, who was expelled from the party for indiscipline this year, has used the Marikana unrest to relaunch his political career and stir up opposition against Zuma ahead of an ANC leadership election in December.

Malema was barred by police on Monday from addressing the striking miners at Marikana, but said his campaign to improve workers' pay and conditions would not be cowed by a government crackdown.

Julius Malema contemplates his next moveFoto: Jon Hrusa dpa
Julius Malema has used the dispute to stir up opposition against President ZumaImage: picture-alliance/dpa

This is unlikely to be the end of the firebrand politician's quest to score political points from the mining situation in South Africa, since calm in all the country's mines isn't guaranteed.

Hubertus von Welck said " President Zuma's opponents, like Julius Malema,will certainly find other areas where you have conflict and where there are people who are dissatisfied.“

On Wednesday, a few miles away from the stadium where Lonmin miners were celebrating, police used rubber bullets and teargas to disperse people near a mine owned by another company, Anglo American Platinum, in Rustenburg.

South Africa is home to 80 percent of all known reserves of platinum and is a major gold producer. According to President Zuma, the unrest this year has cost the mining industry 4.5 billion rand in lost output.