Labour Minister Mildred Oliphant was rebuked for insinuating that a peacekeeping force might be deployed to stabilise the mining crisis. File photo: Leon Nicholas

Johannesburg - Labour Minister Mildred Oliphant expressed concern on Wednesday about the strike at Lonmin's platinum mine in Marikana, North West.

Workers associated with the Association of Mineworkers and Construction Union (Amcu) downed tools on Tuesday, demanding the immediate closure of the National Union of Mineworkers' (NUM) offices at Lonmin.

“I would like to appeal to the leadership of both unions (NUM and Amcu) to put the interests of the country and workers above their narrow interests,” Oliphant said in a statement.

“The issue that seems to have stoked the latest trouble are the kind of regular issues which should have been resolved without resorting to such drastic action like the downing of tools.”

She said workers had to be aware that unprotected strikes could have serious consequences for themselves, their jobs and the future of the mine.

“I would also like to appeal to Lonmin management to do everything possible to make sure that the problems are resolved as soon as possible without further damage,” Oliphant said.

“It is in the best interest of the country for both unions and management at Lonmin to demonstrate required levels of leadership and industrial relations management.”

Striking workers resolved to return to work immediately on Wednesday.

Amcu president Joseph Mathunjwa held a meeting with the workers and told them to return to work.

“There are channels to be followed... Go back to work so that your enemies will not take advantage of this situation,” Mathunjwa told the workers gathered at nearby Wonderkop stadium.

Miners would start reporting for work for the 6pm shift on Wednesday night, he said.

Mathunjwa said there was a case at the Commission for Conciliation, Mediation and Arbitration (CCMA) on the dispute over the recognition of Amcu as majority union at Lonmin.

He said: “I am going to the CCMA tomorrow (Thursday) where a final decision will be made as to who is the boss at Lonmin.”

As much as workers were angered by the murder of the union's North West regional organiser Mawethu Steven, they should not “make his death in vain”.

“We loved Steven. He fought for our rights. Let's go back (to work) to honour him.”

Mathunjwa said Amcu leaders were being hunted down “like dogs”.

The workers would gather at Karee stadium on Thursday for a memorial service for Steven.

They would also receive feedback from negotiations at the CCMA.

Steven was shot dead at a tavern in Photsaneng on Saturday.

Two brothers, Andile and Ayanda Menzi, who were NUM members were also shot dead on Saturday.

Last year, 44 people were killed during a wage-related strike at Marikana.

They included 34 people shot dead by the police on August 16, and 10 people - including two policemen and two security guards - killed the preceding week. - Sapa