* Lonmin says workers returning for night shift
* Union tensions rooted in war for membership
* Unrest could threaten S.Africa credit rating
* Mass meeting of workers due on Thursday
By Ed Stoddard
MARIKANA, South Africa, May 15 Workers at
Lonmin's South African platinum shafts were
ending a walkout, the company said on Wednesday, easing fears
that a two-day strike could ignite fresh labour violence in the
continent's largest economy.
Leaders of the Association of Mineworkers and Construction
Union (AMCU) earlier told thousands of strikers at a rally to
return to their posts, pending negotiations between the union
and an independent mediator.
"(It) seems positive so far," Lonmin spokeswoman Sue Vey
told Reuters, adding that workers were reporting for overnight
shifts on Wednesday.
Labour unrest in the mineral-rich country slowed growth last
year and analysts for international ratings agency Moody's said
on Wednesday that further outbreaks of violence could damage the
export competitiveness of South Africa's mining industry.
Tensions have been running high over looming job cuts and
wage talks in the sector, complicated by a turf war between the
AMCU and the National Union of Mineworkers (NUM) that
contributed to deadly strikes at Lonmin and other platinum
producers last year.
Addressing the rally at a dusty football pitch near Lonmin's
Marikana mine 120 km (70 miles) northwest of Johannesburg, AMCU
President Joseph Mathunjwa told strikers that the union would
press for Lonmin management to recognise it as the majority
"AMCU does not sit on boardrooms. This is AMCU's boardroom,"
Mathunjwa said to roars of approval.
AMCU's affiliated workers at Lonmin were due to hold a mass
meeting on Thursday.
Vey told reporters earlier on Wednesday that the company had
not been issued with any formal demands related to the two-day
walkout at all its 13 shafts.
"It seems to be union rivalry," she said.
The rivalry started early last year at another platinum
producer, Impala Platinum, and spread to other mines.
The AMCU has been making inroads at several gold and
platinum mines, with Lonmin saying this month that the
organisation controlled 70 percent of its South African
workforce - ousting the NUM as the dominant union.
The challenge to NUM's dominance of the sector has also
rattled the African National Congress (ANC), the NUM's ally in
the struggle against apartheid, as the ruling party gears up for
an election this time next year.
The AMCU has been able to poach miners who feel that its
rival is focusing too much on its political ties and relations
with management while not paying enough attention to shop-floor
Since the start of the unrest, more than 50 people have been
killed in labour violence, including 34 striking Marikana miners
shot dead by police last August - the deadliest security
incident since apartheid ended in 1994.
An NUM spokesman said on Tuesday that the latest strike
appeared to stem from anger over the killing of an AMCU member
in a Rustenburg tavern on Saturday.
Police kept a low profile on Wednesday, with only one mine
security guard watching as the striking workers made their way
to the football pitch.
"The police are shivering," shouted the marchers, wearing
the signature emerald green shirts of the AMCU.