Johannesburg - The first day of Amcu's strike in the platinum sector ended peacefully on Thursday, despite fears of the violence which has cost lives in the North West platinum belt in the past.
Thousands of miners gathered at the Wonderkop stadium, in Marikana, where they were addressed by Association of Mineworkers and Construction Union (Amcu) leaders.
Amcu is pushing for an entry-level monthly salary of R12 500.
The day started slowly, with only a few miners trickling in to the stadium.
“Management has stopped buses from collecting our workers and bringing them to the stadium,” charged Amcu's Lonmin chairman Jack Khoba.
The union made alternative arrangements to ferry miners to the venue.
They greed to let the government mediate the negotiation process between Amcu and Lonmin, Anglo-American Platinum (Amplats) and Impala Platinum (Implats).
Negotiations are set to start on Friday at the Commission for Conciliation, Mediation and Arbitration (CCMA), in Johannesburg.
On Thursday, Labour Department spokesman Musa Zondi compared the importance of ending the strike to breathing, with the economy not able to take another hit.
However, workers also had real grievances that needed to be addressed, and the talks were “a balancing act”.
“The reality is the country can't take another prolonged strike, so it is with that in mind that the minister is anxious to get the parties together so we can find a middle ground,” he said.
“In the end, workers lose out. Whatever they eventually get, gets cancelled by... whatever they lost when they were on strike. The economy needs to keep jobs and be stable.”
However, Amcu president Joseph Mathunjwa said the government would not force its hand or direct its stance on the negotiations.
“Government will not make decisions for us. If he (government) is taking sides, we will show him the door,” he said.
In a joint statement on Thursday, the platinum companies welcomed the government's offer to mediate.
Amplats CEO Chris Griffith, Implats CEO Terence Goodlace and Lonmin CEO Ben Magara reiterated that a prolonged strike would probably further damage South Africa's reputation as an attractive business and investment destination.
It would also have “a negative impact on the revenue flows and sustainability of the platinum operations, and job losses at a number of marginal mines and shafts”.
“Striking is not a constructive solution if we are to return the company to a sustainable financial footing and secure existing jobs,” said Griffith.
Magara said the companies remained committed to finding a solution, and would continue to engage at all levels to find an agreement.
Goodlace said they were resolute in their efforts to find a solution which would secure the sustainability of the business and preserve jobs as far as possible.
North West police described the march as peaceful. Colonel Sabata Mokgwabone said no serious incidents were reported.