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Mthethwa tells Lonmin to dial down threat to fire Marikana strikers

Sapa and M&G Online reporter

Lonmin must not fire workers who don't return to work today, the police minister says, out of respect for the week of mourning declared by the state.

The platinum mining company issued an ultimatum on Monday requiring all workers to report for work by 7am on Tuesday, or face disciplinary action. (Paul Botes, M&G)

Police Minister Nathi Mthethwa said on Monday evening that the ultimatum to striking Lonmin protesters to return to work or face dismissal will not be effected this week.

"The President [Jacob Zuma] has declared this week as a mourning week. We want all, including mine bosses, to respect this," he told reporters in Rustenburg.

He said the government wanted an agreement with the mine on the issue.

On Tuesday morning, Lonmin said it would only comment on the call to suspend the deadline once it had determined how many people showed up for work.The mine said its objective was not just to dismiss people, but to find a reasonable solution to the situation.

The platinum mining company issued an ultimatum on Monday requiring all workers to report for work by 7am on Tuesday, or face disciplinary action.

Trade unions, which initially supported the deadline, have since thrown their weight behind the call for the ultimatum not to be enforced.

Mthethwa was part of a ministerial committee appointed to help the families of the miners killed and injured on Thursday when police opened fire on protesters.

Remanded in custody
Elsewhere, the 259 men arrested after the deadly police crackdown at Lonmin mine in Marikana heard charges on Monday ranging from murder to public violence, in the first court hearing from the tragedy.

All the men, except one who is hospitalised, were brought in groups before the court in the Pretoria township of Ga-Rankuwa to hear the charges. Their next hearing was set for August 27.

Magistrate Esau Bodigelo remanded all the men in custody. An exact breakdown of all the charges was not immediately available, with proceedings being translated into several languages.

On Thursday police opened fire on hundreds of workers during a strike at Marikana, leaving 34 dead and 78 wounded in the bloodiest day of protest since apartheid.

Police convoys with armoured vehicles brought the accused from prisons across the region to the court, where a group of around 100 people cheered as they arrived.

The group of mostly women brandished placards with slogans such as "Release the innocent workers".

The accused appeared before a packed courtroom, with half the public gallery cordoned off with police tape and armed officers.

Special visit
Meanwhile, several opposition parties on Monday visited the site of the Lonmin shooting in Marikana ahead of a special parliamentary sitting that will debate the incident on Tuesday.

United Democratic Movement (UDM) president Bantu Holomisa told the Mail & Guardian opposition parties were requested to visit the scene of the shooting.

"We decided it would be prudent for a forum of opposition leaders to come here and form our own opinions on this matter," Holomisa told the M&G.

Holomisa was joined by Congress of the People president Mosiuoa Lekota, African Christian Democratic Party president Kenneth Meshoe, Pan African Congress president Letlapa Mphahlele, Democratic Alliance Federal chairperson Wilmot James and representatives from the Inkhatha Freedom Party on his trip to the mine.

"We have heard the workers concerns and we have familiarised ourselves with the situation. We will now be in a better position to ask the right questions in parliament," he said.

All chief whips representing political parties in parliament have been called to an urgent multiparty chief whips forum on Tuesday to discuss Parliament's reaction to the tragedy.

Members of Parliament from all political parties and leaders from various churches are expected to hold a memorial service in Parliament's Old Assembly Chamber on Tuesday at midday in honour of the victims of the violent protests.

Return to work
The majority of those killed are understood to have been involved in an illegal strike at the mine after rock drillers affiliated to the Association of Mineworkers and Construction Union (Amcu) demanded their monthly salary of R4 000 be increased to R12 500.

While the exact reasons behind the shooting remain unclear, Lonmin management ordered all workers to return to work on Monday but after they still refused to return, a new deadline of 7am Tuesday was set by mine management for workers to return to their posts. That deadline was then put off for a week to honour the week of mourning declared by the government.

The ANC said they didn't join the opposition led visit to Marikana as the ruling party trusted the "competent constituencies" dealing with the matter.

"We are confident there are enough feet on the ground to deal with the matter," ANC spokesperson Keith Khoza told the M&G.

"The president has ordered a commission of enquiry, the police are investigating the incident, there is an inter-ministerial task team and the mineral resources department is also investigating."

Khoza added that opposition parties might be wasting their time.

"This is a matter between Lonmin and union affiliations and it must be sorted out within these guidelines," he said.

Holomisa said all political parties are entitled to be there.

"They are entitled to their own opinions. We are not here for politicking and were certainly couldn't just leave these people to rot - especially after they requested us to come and see them," Holomisa said.

The committee would facilitate the payment of benefits to affected families. It intended engaging the services of the Commission for Conciliation, Mediation and Arbitration to help resolve labour disputes at Lonmin. – Additional reporting by Nickolaus Bauer and Sapa

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