* Cheers as Marikana miners accept 22 pct wage hike
* Top platinum firm Amplats resumes Rustenburg operations
* Rand firms on news, spot platinum price falls 2 pct
* Marikana unrest claimed 45 lives, shocked South Africa
By Mish Molakeng
MARIKANA, South Africa, Sept 18 Striking
platinum miners at Lonmin's Marikana mine in
South Africa accepted a hefty pay rise offer on Tuesday, ending
six weeks of violent labour unrest that killed 45 people and
rattled Africa's largest economy.
The strikers, grouped on a bare soccer pitch near the mine,
100 km (60 miles) northwest of Johannesburg, cheered when they
were told that management were offering a 22 percent pay
increase, and said they would return to work on Thursday.
"I am happy - and forward with the struggle," said one of
the striking miners, Sithembile Sohati.
"It's a huge achievement. No union has achieved a 22 percent
increase before," Zolisa Bodlani, a worker representative at
Marikana, told Reuters.
At least one analyst expressed concern 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 labour and electricity costs.
Lonmin confirmed that the deal had been signed in Rustenburg
on Tuesday night.
"The agreement includes a signing bonus of 2,000 rand and an
average rise in wages of between 11 and 22 percent for all
employees falling within the Category 3-8 bargaining units,
effective from 1 October 2012," it said in a statement.
In another sign that weeks of trouble in South Africa's
platinum belt were ending, the world's biggest platinum
producer, Anglo American Platinum, said it had resumed
operations in the strike-hit Rustenburg area.
The spot platinum price fell 2 percent on the
Marikana news to $1,627.49/oz and the rand firmed over
1 percent to 8.166 to the dollar.
The wildcat mining strikes hitting a major sector of the
economy had depressed the rand, increased the cost of insuring
against default on South African debt and spooked some foreign
investors into selling mining shares.
CRITICISM OF ZUMA
The conflict, most notably the police killing of 34 Marikana
strikers on Aug. 16, had also ignited criticism that President
Jacob Zuma and his ruling African National Congress were
neglecting poor workers and siding with wealthy business owners.
Zuma acknowledged that the wildcat industrial action had
caught the government and powerful allies such as the National
Union of Mineworkers (NUM) on the hop.
"This incident has been a surprise given the established
procedures we have in place," he told reporters in Brussels
minutes after news of the settlement.
The deal will see wages raised by up to 22 percent depending
on the category of worker but that percentage hike is not across
the board, according to the Solidarity trade union of skilled
workers which was not on strike but took part in the talks.
The rock drill operators who began the strike will receive
an effective 22 percent rise on their total package including
allowances which will bring it to just over 11,000 rand per
month, Solidarity said.
"The key worry now is that 22 percent wage rises will be
seen spreading across the mine industry. That is hardly
affordable in an industry with such hefty cost pressures
already," said Peter Attard-Montalto, emerging market economist
at Nomura International.
Marikana strikers' representative Bodlani said the workers
had asked Lonmin management to promise that they would work with
unions to reach within two years the 12,500 rand ($1,500) basic
monthly salary that the miners had originally demanded.
The company has not yet responded to this. It had previously
argued that paying 12,500 rand a month would put thousands of
jobs at risk and challenge the viability of the business.
In its statement, Amplats said it considered it was now safe
for employees to return to their jobs but acknowledged that
"many mining employees are still to return to work".
It said smelting and other processing operations at
Rustenburg were already at normal levels.
Amplats suspended operations in the heart of the platinum
belt last week when machete-wielding strikers marched on shafts.
ECHOES OF APARTHEID
The Marikana police shootings were the deadliest security
incident since the end of white minority rule in 1994 and, for
many South Africans, painfully recalled security force massacres
of black demonstrators under apartheid.
In all, 45 people died in the Marikana unrest, which spread
beyond Lonmin to other platinum firms around Rustenburg and some
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
"Not even the president can stop me. Not even death can stop
me. My ideas are out there. Even if I am no more, people will
continue those ideas," he told a news conference.
South Africa is home to 80 percent of all known reserves of
platinum and is a major gold producer. The unrest this year has
cost the mining industry 4.5 billion rand ($548 million) in lost
output, Zuma said on Monday.
An illegal strike by 15,000 workers at the KDC West mine
operated by Gold Fields, the world's fourth largest
bullion producer, continued on Tuesday as its chief executive
said the firm would not agree to demands for a minimum wage of
12,500 rand a month.
In a separate development, parliament approved a 5.5 percent
pay increase for Zuma on Tuesday, taking his annual remuneration
to 2.6 million rand ($315,600) a year.