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South Africa's Implats says Marula mine strike to end, tensions high

By Ed Stoddard

JOHANNESBURG (Reuters) - South Africa's Impala Platinum said on Monday wildcat strikers at its Marula mine had indicated they would return to work on Tuesday and press their demands through "formal channels".

But tensions remain high and the National Union of Mineworkers (NUM), the dominant union at Marula, said its leaders there had been given 48 hours to vacate their offices by a "workers' committee" and faced death threats if they did not.

"A workers' committee has been set up there which is leading the strike. Our leaders there have been told by unknown people to vacate their offices in 48 hours or they will be killed," a NUM source, who asked not to be named, told Reuters.

The wildcat strike by around 2,000 miners began on Friday.

Implats spokesman Johan Theron told Reuters the precise demands remained unclear but NUM sources said the strikers wanted to press for a deal similar to one signed by the rival Association of Mineworkers and Construction Union (AMCU) in the platinum sector two weeks ago.

Implats, the world's second largest producer of platinum, and rivals Anglo American Platinum and Lonmin are still reeling from the five-month AMCU stoppage, which ended with AMCU's rank and file getting pay increases of about 20 percent in a three-year deal.

Marula's NUM-affiliated workforce signed a two-year wage agreement late in 2013 for rises of up to 8 percent, still above an inflation rate which is currently 6.6 percent.

NUM members at the mine have also said they faced intimidation if they did not down tools during the Marula stoppage - a pattern which in the past has often preceded AMCU wresting majority membership at a mine.

AMCU emerged as the dominant union in South Africa's platinum belt after poaching tens of thousands of disgruntled NUM members in a vicious turf war in 2012 that killed dozens of people and sparked a wave of wildcat strikes in the mining sector that year.

Officials at AMCU were not immediately available for comment about the unfolding situation at Marula.

Africa's most advanced economy has been roiled by labor strife rooted in glaring income disparities and high levels of poverty which still scar the country two decades after the end of white apartheid rule.

In the engineering and steel sectors, over 200,000 workers associated with the NUMSA metal workers' union downed tools in a separate dispute last week, forcing General Motors to suspend production at its main South African plant because of a shortage of parts.

(Editing by David Evans)

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