JOHANNESBURG – The last of a crippling wave of illegal strikes that have swept South Africa's mining sector ended on Thursday after workers accepted an offer from Anglo American Platinum , the world's top producer of the precious metal.
South Africa's platinum and gold sectors have been rocked for months by often violent wildcat action spawned by glaring income disparities and a union turf war for members, rattling investors in the continent's largest economy, and looming job cuts and wage talks next year could spark more unrest.
The labour unrest has claimed the lives of over 50 people including 34 shot dead by police in one incident in mid-August near a mine operated by platinum producer Lonmin .
"All the workers are returning to work," Evans Ramokga, a strike leader at Amplats, told Reuters. Amplats, a unit of troubled global mining giant Anglo American , has struggled for two months to get over 30,000 workers back on the job at several of its South African mines.
Amplats has said the strikes would cut annual profit by more than a fifth and tensions in the sector remain, with 37 workers arrested for public violence for protests near a chrome mine run by Xstrata scheduled to appear in court on Thursday.
South Africa's boardrooms and politicians may breathe a sigh of relief as the worst labour unrest since the end of apartheid in 1994 winds down in the world's top platinum producer, but the future is riven with uncertainty.
The dominant National Union of Mineworkers, which has delivered above-inflation wage hikes but contained
Anglo, which this week raised cost estimates for its Minas-Rio project in Brazil and warned of lower profit from its South African iron ore unit Kumba , is scrutinising Amplats in a review widely expected to lead to shaft closures and job cuts that could stoke social tensions further.
Much of the platinum sector is battling with low demand though the price for the metal used for emissions-capping catalytic converters in cars has risen 13 percent this year mostly because of supply concerns stemming from the strikes in South Africa, home to 80 percent of known reserves.
BACK IN THE SHAFTS
Amplats spokeswoman Mpumi Sithole said the management and the labour leaders were scheduled to meet Thursday morning.
"We have a feedback session with the strike committee. The offer that was presented will be signed this morning," she said.
(Additional reporting by Joshua Nhlapo in Rustenburg; Writing by Ed Stoddard)