Thousands of South African miners are facing dismissal if they refuse to return to work Monday at the Lonmin platinum mine, where 44 people were killed last week mostly at the hands of police.
Meanwhile, the country began a week of mourning as it tries to digest some of the worst state-authorized violence since the end of Apartheid racial-segregation in 1994.
Police say they acted in self-defence on Thursday at the Marikana mine in the North-West province, when 34 workers taking part in an illegal strike were shot dead as they charged at officers.
Ten people — including two police officers — were killed in the preceding days, as the strike had turned into a turf war between rival unions.
Some 3,000 workers, led by rock drill operators, started a wild cat strike on August 10, demanding a 200 per cent pay rise, saying their currently salary of some 4,500 rands (540 dollars) a month was unfair.
A top governmental committee, headed by ministers and other high-level officials, is at the mine to help handle the tense situation, including offering support to the families of the deceased.
President Jacob Zuma has announced that a commission of inquiry will be established to determine what went wrong.
“We need to ensure the right to protest is maintained and defended, but must make sure it does not descend into unlawful action,” said Mac Maharaj, the presidential spokesman. He appealed for people not to stoke tensions during the period of mourning.
Also on Monday, arraignments were expected to begin for some 250 workers who were arrested last week in connection with the violence.
Lonmin, which is listed in both London and Johannesburg and supplies more than 10 per cent of global platinum demand, initially insisted the workers return to their posts by Friday or face dismissal, but following the deaths decided to extend the decision.
However, some workers have indicated they would not return and the company has admitted only a fraction of the workforce had shown up by early morning.
The company’s stock has tanked over the past week, while the price of platinum rose, as investors worried about production levels given the disruptions.