Marikana: Lonmin PLC on Sunday warned miners to either return to work on Monday or face being sacked from the platinum mine.
In the meantime, South African President Jacob Zuma declared a week of national mourning starting on Monday for striking miners killed in violence at the platinum mine on Thursday.
Thirty-four miners were gunned down by police earlier this week in one of the worst displays of state violence since apartheid ended in 1994. A further 10 people were killed in earlier clashes at the mine.
"The nation is in shock and pain," Zuma said in a statement. "We must this week reflect on the sanctity of human life ... We must avoid finger-pointing and recrimination. We must unite against violence from whatever quarter."
Hundreds of rock-drill operators have been leading an illegal strike among the mine's 28,000-strong labour force. Threats of violence kept many more away.
Lonmin, the world's third largest platinum producer, had initially ordered miners to return to work by Friday, then, after the shootings, changed the deadline to Monday, spokeswoman Sue Vey explained.
Strikers said they were not sure what to do about the ultimatum. The company has not responded to their demands for the minimum wage to be increased from R5,500 (USD 688) to R12,500 (USD 1,560).
Last year after a similar dispute over labour representation stopped work at its nearby Karee mine, Lonmin fired all 9,000 workers. Then it asked them to reapply for their jobs and most were rehired.
More than 100 people, miners, their families and local community members, processed past the mine on Sunday singing hymns as they made their way to the dusty veld where police officers fired a barrage of shots from automatic rifles and pistols at a group of charging miners on Thursday.
Police say one of the charging miners shot at them first with a pistol and that they acted in self-defence. Earlier in the week, the strikers had butchered two captured police officers with machetes.
Lonmin said on Saturday that it will pay for the educations of all children of mine employees killed in the unrest, up to university level.
A presidential statement on Sunday said Zuma would announce the composition of a judicial commission of inquiry into the killings and its terms of reference within a few days. It said he had appointed 10 Cabinet ministers and a provincial premier to visit Marikana on Monday to lead support for bereaved families including the identification of bodies, burials and counselling.
Many people have said they do not know whether missing husbands and sons are among the dead, among 78 wounded, or among more than 250 arrested on charges ranging from public violence to murder.
Zuma urged South Africans to "reaffirm our belief in peace, stability and order and in building a caring society free of crime and violence."
The shootings have South Africans debating their country's magnified levels of violence, and the frequency with which they resort to violence to resolve disputes. South Africa has one of the highest murder and rape rates in the world.
(With Agency inputs)
First Published: Sunday, August 19, 2012, 22:08