| JOHANNESBURG, June 20
JOHANNESBURG, June 20 Striking miners are slowly
returning to South Africa's platinum belt in anticipation that
the country's longest and costliest strike could come to an end
and work resume, companies and a union official said on Friday.
Marathon talks to end the crippling five-month stoppage
continued on Friday after a shock setback this week when the
three major platinum producers accused the AMCU union of
introducing extra demands to derail wage talks.
A week ago, the two sides said they had reached a wage deal
"in principle" to end the strike.
About 70,000 members of the Association of Mineworkers and
Construction Union (AMCU) have been on strike since January at
the world's top platinum producers, Anglo American Platinum
, Impala Platinum and Lonmin .
Many of them have left the platinum belt around Rustenburg,
northwest of Johannesburg, for their home villages, in many
cases in the impoverished Eastern Cape province hundreds of
kilometres to the south.
"The Impala mine is closed, but we are seeing more activity
in the townships around the mines, which has to be a sign that
people are coming back into those areas," Implats spokesman
Johan Theron said.
Smaller rival Lonmin is gearing up for work to resume in the
next week or two and a marked number of people were coming back
to work, company spokeswoman Sue Vey said.
"People are anticipating a return to work. I think we are
close to an end," she said.
Mines minister Ngoako Ramatlhodi, who last week pulled out
as the mediator of talks but is still close to the process, told
Reuters the strike could end this weekend and that production
could resume soon.
"The parties are knocking at the door of an agreement. They
are working around the clock," he said.
Meanwhile an AMCU shop steward at Amplats confirmed that
workers were returning to the platinum belt and that a mass
meeting was planned for Monday.
The strike dragged South Africa's economy into contraction
in the first quarter and has so far cost the companies more than
23 billion rand ($2.2 billion) in lost revenue, according to an
online tally run by the three firms.
(Editing by Ed Cropley and Jane Baird)