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South Africa miners celebrate wage deal

South Africa Mining V_Bake (2).jpg

Miners sing and dance in Lonmin Platinum Mine near Rustenburg, South Africa, Tuesday, Sept. 18, 2012. Striking miners have accepted a company offer of a 22% overall pay increase to end more than five weeks of crippling and bloody industrial action. (AP Photo/Themba Hadebe)AP2012

Lonmin Platinum's miners celebrated a wage deal Wednesday that ended a deadly strike, but labor unrest at a different mine took a violent turn when police broke up what they called an illegal gathering near the town of Rustenburg.

"We arrested 19 people today for being a part of an illegal gathering and in possession of dangerous weapons," said Gauteng province police spokesman Dennis Adriao, who said between 400 and 500 people gathered early Wednesday.

"Police asked them to disperse and when they wouldn't, police used tear gas, stun grenades and rubber bullets to disperse the crowd," said Gauteng province police spokesman Dennis Adriao. "We've said from the start that we would not tolerate illegal gatherings."

That strike is at Amplats mine near Rustenburg, owned by Anglo American Platinum which earlier claimed its workers were not striking, but that it shut down operations to ensure their safety against violent threats.

Spokeswoman Mpmi Sithole said Wednesday that all five mines in Rustenburg have reopened but they cannot say how many have returned to work.

At Marikana, where the protracted strike by Lonmin miners has ended, thousands gathered and sang the national anthem in piercing heat, holding up umbrellas to block the sun. Workers cheered and laughed as they walked into the Wonderkop stadium in Marikana near the Lonmin mines.

Many of Lonmin's 28,000 workers said they were happy to return to work Thursday and that the strike that saw 45 people killed has finally come to an end.

Lonmin agreed to a gross pay of 11,078 rand ($1,385) to rock drill operators who had been demanding a monthly take-home wage of 12,500 rand ($1,560). They also agreed to give all miners a once-off payment of 2,000 rand ($250) as a bonus for returning to work. A statement from the company said that miners will receive between 11 and 22 percent wage increases.

"I am so happy," said Mvenyeza Luhlaziyao, 48, a painter at the mines. "I try to forget the past and continue to move forward to build on the company and make it all all right. We must continue to build the company and management must listen to us in the future. People didn't care about us, that's why we decided to go on strike."

Riddick Mofokeng, another miner, said he also felt good about the deal.

"It is not what we expected to get, but it is great," he said. "Most of the people, we are ready to go back to work."

Zolisa Bodlani, a leader for the mine workers in the strikes, said the agreement is noteworthy. "If no people were killed, I'd say this was a great achievement," he said. "We've never in the history of South Africa had such an increase of pay as 22 percent."

Two wives of winch operators expressed their pleasure that the strike had ended. "The weeks without pay were terrible," said Plaxedes Matemba, a 39-year-old mother of two.

"It will make life better for us," she said of the pay raise. "We expect better changes again ... there will be no more provoking, no more noise, no more beatings," she said.

Portia Mhlanga, a 22-year-old whose partner is a brick layer, said the return to work will also be good for her. "People will now buy things, and there will be more work," she said.

Bodlani said the workers will return to Lonmin's Marikana mine on Thursday morning, but they will not go underground.

"They will receive counseling and training for a few days," he said. The miners living in the Wonderkop informal settlement also hope to make a memorial of the rock hill where they saw 34 of their colleagues killed by police, he said.

Joseph Mathunjwa, of the Association of Mineworkers and Construction Union, said that they will be putting a trust fund together for the families who lost members to the shootings.

Delegates from unions, strikers not represented by unions, and the London-registered company signed the final wage deal late Tuesday night in Mooinooi, close to Marikana.

The agreement for the company's miners ends a strike with political and economic repercussions, but does not resolve South Africa's huge economic inequality and the government's failure to address massive unemployment and poverty.

The South Africa Press Association reported that Cosatu welcomed the end of the strike.

"We hope that peace and safety will now be restored to the mine and the surrounding communities," said the Congress of SA Trade Unions (Cosatu), whose affiliate the National Union of Mineworkers (NUM) had been publicly criticised by many of the mineworkers on strike, according to SAPA.