File picture: Reuters

Marikana - Thousands of South African mine workers returned to the Marikana operations of platinum producer Lonmin on Wednesday after wage deals were signed on Tuesday to end a five-month strike, the longest and most damaging in the country's history.

The workers, some wrapped in blankets to ward off the chill of the winter morning, lined up outside the gates of Marikana's process division.

They are to undergo medical and other checks before they descend the shafts to reboot production.

Workers also returned to mines operated by Anglo American Platinum, which were affected as well by the strike by the Association of Mineworkers and Construction Union (Amcu), a shop steward with the union told Reuters.

They were also expected to come back to mines run by Impala Platinum.

“We are back to work, it's good,” said one miner as he walked up a gravel road to take his place in the growing line.

It will take months to get back to full production as the process of bringing the mines back to life, which will include extensive safety checks, will take some time after the prolonged stoppage, which cost the companies over R24 billion in lost revenue.

As it embarked on the strike in January under the populist battle cry of a “living wage”, Amcu had initially demanded that basic wages of miners be more than doubled immediately to R12 500 a month.

In the end, its members settled for increases that amounted to up to around 20 percent annually. - Reuters