Johannesburg, South Africa — 18 October 2012 – Striking miners at one of Gold Fields’ South African operations returned to work on Thursday, but there was no end in sight to the country’s worst wildcat walkouts since the end of apartheid due to renewed unrest at Lonmin’s Marikana mine.

Reuters reports that more than 80,000 miners have downed tools since August in often violent strikes that are hitting growth and investor confidence in Africa’s biggest economy, and raising questions about President Jacob Zuma’s leadership.

In a surprise action, 4,000 workers at Lonmin’s Marikana mine stayed away from work today, disrupting operations once again at the plant where police killed 34 striking miners in August.

“There have been disruptions at various shafts since yesterday,” Lonmin spokeswoman Sue Vey said, adding that they did not know why the workers had downed tools. Only a month ago they had returned to work after being granted pay increases of up to 22%, following a six-week strike.

Kumba Iron Ore is expected to resume operations at its giant Sishen mine soon after clearing away strikers who had been occupying the pit for nearly two weeks, but other companies have reported fresh incidents.

Petra Diamonds said production at its Cullinan mine had been hit after a fifth of the mine’s workers went on strike. Coal miner Forbes and Manhattan Coal also reported disruptions at two of its mines.

Gold Fields, the world’s fourth-largest bullion producer, said all of the 9,000 workers at its Beatrix mine were now back at work after responding to a dismissal ultimatum.

But 11,000 strikers at its KDC West mine in Carletonville, 40 km west of Johannesburg, had until 1200 GMT to return to work or face immediate dismissal. Gold Fields has said it may issue a similar ultimatum to 8,500 strikers at KDC East.

More and more mining companies in South Africa have resorted to mass dismissals to tackle the strikes gripping the sector.

Around 15,000 workers have been sacked in the last two weeks, although experts say it is more a hard-ball negotiating tactic than outright dismissal.

"It’s largely a tactical move," said a labour lawyer, who asked not to be named as he is involved in talks to resolve the strikes. “They don’t expect to be able to run a mine with a completely new labour force.”

While most of the workers will be rehired when the protests end, weeks of strikes have pushed some already struggling shafts into the red, meaning some jobs will be lost.

Anglo American Platinum (Amplats) said it would not fire any wildcat strikers at its relatively profitable Union and Amandelbult mines for now, as it sought to engage unions to resolve the disputes.

The world’s No. 1 platinum producer also said it was open to discussing the fate of the 12,000 miners already dismissed at its Rustenburg operations, which are known to be struggling.

AngloGold Ashanti, the world’s third-largest gold producer, said it would make a decision next week on whether to issue an ultimatum to workers.

Two months of labour unrest, in which more than 50 people have been killed, are taking its toll on South Africa’s reputation.

Standard & Poor’s and Moody’s have both lowered South Africa’s credit rating, citing a lack of political leadership and rising pressure on the government to throw money at the social problems underscored in the mines.

Source: Reuters Africa. For more information, click here.