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South Africa gold workers to return after bonus spat

By Agnieszka Flak

JOHANNESBURG (Reuters) - Striking miners at AngloGold Ashanti will return to work on Sunday at two mines where operations were suspended this week in a dispute over bonus payments, the world's third largest bullion producer said.

The disruptions underscored the residual tensions between management and staff despite the official resolution of the worst industrial unrest in the mining sector since the end of apartheid almost two decades ago.

Sit-in protests at the company's TauTona and Mponeng mines, 65 km (40 miles) west of Johannesburg, had been resolved and it was now ramping up to full production at all of its other South African mines following weeks of wildcat stoppages.

"Work at both mines is expected to resume as normal at the night shift on Sunday," the company said on Friday.

In the last three months, more than 80,000 miners have downed tools in platinum and gold mines, hitting growth in Africa's biggest economy and exposing President Jacob Zuma and the ruling African National Congress (ANC) to heavy criticism for failing to manage labor relations.

More than 50 people have died - most of them shot dead by police - and the unrest is taking its toll on South Africa's reputation as an investment destination.

Standard & Poor's and Moody's have both lowered South Africa's credit rating, citing a lack of political leadership and rising pressure on the government to throw money at the social problems spilling out of the mines.

FINANCIAL DISTRESS

Management threats of mass dismissals, along with pay sweeteners, have ended most of the strikes in the last two weeks but tensions at individual shafts are still simmering.

Police fired rubber bullets, tear gas, water cannon and stun grenades at protesting miners in the platinum belt again this week, prompting more calls for calm from Zuma.

On Thursday, mining giant Xstrata dismissed 400 workers on an illegal strike at its Kroondal chrome mine that had shut down most of the plant.

Anglo American Platinum (Amplats), the world's top producer of the precious metal, is still struggling to get more than 30,000 workers back to work, with an illegal strike at its Rustenburg operations now in its seventh week.

The strike has cost it 141,640 ounces of platinum so far.

Amplats' chief executive Chris Griffith said on Thursday the platinum industry was in "severe financial distress" and that high wage settlements to get wildcat strikers back to work would lead to job cuts.

One Gold Fields' mine also remains shut while the company processes the appeals of 8,500 workers sacked for a non-sanctioned strike.

Miners have been emboldened by an increase of up to 22 percent in wages given by platinum producer Lonmin to end a strike at its Marikana mine, where police shot dead 34 miners on August 16.

Junior miner Coal of Africa said it had agreed to up wages for workers at its Mooiplaats colliery by 26 percent, including allowances, following a legal strike at the mine.

Even though Zuma's handling of the unrest has caused concern within his governing African National Congress (ANC), he remains favorite to win re-election at an ANC leadership conference in December, teeing him up for another five years as national president from 2014.

(Reporting by Agnieszka Flak; Editing by Ed Cropley and Jon Boyle)

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