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Key players reject labour deal with Lonmin

Former youth leader of the African National Congress Julius Malema addresses mine workers at the Lonmin mine near Rustenburg, South Africa, Aug. 18, 2012.

Themba Hadebe/AP

A South African union and holdout miners on Thursday rejected a deal with platinum giant Lonmin PLC, stalling efforts to end a deadly strike that has rattled the industry and stirred political dissent.

After the turmoil threatened to spread to a mining sector that accounts for around a fifth of South Africa's GDP, the finance minister moved to reassure investors and insist that Africa's largest economy was still open for business.

But three weeks to the day after police shot dead 34 miners at the Marikana mine in the worst case of police violence since the end of apartheid, a solution to the salary dispute was still not forthcoming.

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Worker attendance reflected this, with only 1.65 per cent of the 28,000-strong permanent work force turning out.

Management of the Lonmin mine inked an agreement in the early hours of Thursday with the main unions to end the illegal strike that started in August.

But non-unionized workers and a key union whose agreement is essential to ending the action have refused to sign.

"We cannot agree to sign that thing. It shows once you sign the workers must resume work. But we know the workers won't return," said non-unionized workers' representative Zolisa Bodlani of the "peace accord."

Mediator Bishop Jo Seoka said a key union, the Association of Mineworkers and Construction Union (AMCU) also refused to go along.

"AMCU, the union that is new in that sector, was not willing to sign the peace accord," Mr. Seoka told AFP.

On Thursday, spring rains and hail kept the non-unionized workers from meeting to discuss the deal outside the mine.

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Malizo, 29, a rock drill operator, said he wouldn't return underground until the company agreed to a pay increase to 12,500 rands ($1,479) a month, nearly triple what the miners claim to earn currently.

"I am still waiting for the report from people who went to the (peace talks) meeting. If they come with the right thing, that Lonmin sends the money, we go back to work. If they don't we stay home," he told AFP.

Police were called in and shot dead 34 people on Aug. 16, days after clashes between workers had left 10 dead.

Commenting on has been dubbed the Marikana massacre after meeting visiting World Bank president Jim Yong Kim, Finance Minister Pravin Gordhan was eager to defuse any notion that South Africa's image as an attractive investment destination was in question.

"Will it impact growth? I don't think so in any significant way," he said.

"But it's important that we communicate to the world that South Africa is still hard at work and most of it is highly productive and that it is still available for investment opportunities as well."

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Critics say the ruling African National Congress (ANC) and allied unions have lost touch with poor South Africans, in a country with gaping inequality 18 years after the end of white minority rule.

On Monday, Nobel Peace Laureate Desmond Tutu lambasted President Jacob Zuma's government.

"Please, please, please, come to your senses. Marikana felt like a nightmare, but this is what our 2012 democracy has become," he said at an event.

Meanwhile youth firebrand Julius Malema has also capitalized on the strikes by calling on Zuma to resign. Mr. Malema has travelled to other mines with disputes in the past few weeks and incited workers to abandon their unions.

In the weeks after the Lonmin violence unrest has spread to gold mines in neighbouring Gauteng province, where 12,000 downed tools for a week in protest against their union NUM, and police dispersed protesters with teargas and rubber bullets at another one.

Some South African newspapers have described the Marikana shooting and its aftermath as a watershed in the country's post-apartheid history and suggested the nation was on the brink of a "mining revolution."

A ministerial team said in a statement Thursday it was "concerned with the growing trend of violent protests in the gold and platinum mining sectors over the past weeks."

A Pretoria court on Thursday released the last of more than 270 people arrested at the strikes. Prosecutors on Monday dropped murder charges against them for the deaths of their own companions, but all still face public violence charges.

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