* Striking workers' resolve stiffened by killings
* Almost all workers at mine not returning to posts
* Lonmin can sack workers but has held off
RUSTENBURG, South Africa, Aug 29 (Reuters) - Feuding South
African unions, platinum producer Lonmin and government
officials tried on Wednesday to broker a peace accord at a mine
where 44 people were killed in the worst such violence since the
end of apartheid.
They also want to use the meeting to start wage talks over
the dispute that has paralysed production at Lonmin's Marikana
mine and raised worries of unrest spreading through the
country's platinum sector, further shaking the economy.
Bringing all the parties together to secure a symbolic peace
deal could prove successful, but the strike at Lonmin's Marikana
mine, northwest of Johannesburg, may be far tougher to resolve.
"If there is no 12,500 rand ($1,500) a month, no workers
will be going back," Zolisa Bodlani, a representative for the
striking workers, said ahead of the meeting.
Strikers say they have sacrificed too much to settle for
less than their demands. Lonmin said it had an average 7.7
percent attendance across all shafts on Wednesday morning.
Participants were tight-lipped about the proceedings, saying
they will speak when the time was right. Some expected the talks
to stretch until at least Friday.
"You have to have patience. This is not going to be easy,"
said Nerine Kahn, national director for the Commission for
Conciliation, Mediation and Arbitration.
The focus is on Lonmin and the unions to reach a deal but if
the discussions drag on, pressure will mount on the government
to resolve a conflict that has tarnished the country's
reputation as a destination for foreign investment.
Mining operations at Lonmin , the world's
third largest producer of platinum, have been effectively frozen
for more than two weeks due to the labour strife, sending spot
prices for the metal up and share prices for Lonmin down.
The 3,000 strikers are mostly rock driller operators, who
the company says are paid about 9,800 rand with an average
monthly bonus of 1,500 rand.
The killing of miners in the worst security incident since
the end of apartheid in 1994 has steeled the resolve of strikers
who see their dead comrades as martyrs and feel any compromise
will be a sellout.
Thirty-four were killed in a hail of police gun fire. Ten
people, including two police officers and two security guards,
were hacked to death days earlier.
Many of the striking miners also do not have a recognised
union bargaining on their behalf.
Many have moved to the camp of the upstart and militant
Association of Mineworkers and Construction Union (AMCU) and it
is not clear who is representing who in all cases.
Some just wait in their shacks near the mine staying away
until someone secures them a better deal.
But almost all of the strikers feel the established National
Union of Mineworkers has failed them - caring more about mine
bosses and political leaders than the worker in shafts.
The dominant NUM has been able to keep peace in the sector
by typically limiting the duration of strikes to periods that do
not cause major harm to the bottom line of mining firms or the
purse strings of miners who lose out on wages.
NUM represents about 11,000 of the 28,000 workers at Lonmin
but it has not been able to get its members to return to their
posts, with many too intimidated by possible attacks from AMCU
members and strikers to go back to their jobs.
Lonmin is within its rights to fire the 3,000 for launching
an illegal strike, but three people were killed in a similar
dispute at Impala Platinum earlier this year where it
sacked workers for an illegal strike.
And Lonmin will be cautious of sparking more violence at
Marikana, especially when it is facing a government
investigation for its role in the deaths at the mine.
With some of the highest labour costs in the sector, it will
also be reluctant to hike personnel expenses, especially at a
time when platinum miners are seeing their balance sheets
strained by low spot prices.
The African National Congress government has its hands tied
due to its close ties to labour federation COSATU, which has the
NUM as its flagship union.
Opposition politicians have criticised the ANC for being too
concerned about increasing wages for COSATU members and not
doing enough to end an income disparity that is among the worst
in the world.
The incident dubbed "The Marikana Massacre" has hit the base
of support that brought President Jacob Zuma to power, with ANC
insiders telling Reuters that Zuma's foes plan to use the
incident to discredit the president as they jockey for power at
elections for party leaders in December.