Johannesburg (AFP) - The South African government brokered negotiations on Friday to end a pay dispute between tens of thousands of striking platinum mineworkers and mining firms, amid reports of clashes on the picket lines.
After two hours of preliminary closed-door talks, the negotiations were postponed until Monday but the strike will in the meantime continue.
"They have agreed that the next three days starting on Monday they will sit down and have this conversation that they need to have," labour spokesman Musa Zondi told reporters.
As the country's mines and labour ministers led talks seeking to limit the economic damage of the strike, police said strikers were hurling stones at cars and barricading roads.
South Africa produces 80 percent of the world's platinum -- used in products from catalytic converters to computer hard disks to dental fillings, and around 134,000 people are employed in the sector.
"Decent employment and decent salaries, those are our demands," strike leader Joseph Mathunjwa, president of the Association of Mineworkers and Construction Union told AFP as talks opened.
"We hope to achieve the demands of our members."
The union is demanding a doubling of the minimum monthly wage to $1,150 (840 euros) and better working conditions. Companies have rejected the pay increase as untenable.
But anger over the vast income disparities between poor South Africans and the country's rich -- even 20 years after the end of apartheid -- underlies workers' demands.
"They are able to pay one CEO 20 million rand ($1.8 million) in bonuses," Mathunjwa remarked.
While the talks are on hold for the weekend, "the strike continues", said AMCU secretary general Jeff Mpahlele.
Nearly 80,000 workers affiliated with the AMCU have downed tools at South Africa's top three platinum producers, Lonmin and Anglo- American Platinum (Amplats) and Impala Platinum (Implats).
The mines are located in northwestern South Africa's restive platinum belt, the scene of waves of violence in the last two years.
Fears of more job losses
Police in Rustenburg, a key town in the mining zone, reported instances of violence by AMCU members, who pelted cars with stones and barricaded roads early Friday.
"The police have started to receive reports of roads barricading and other incidents that are in contravention of the law," said Brigadier Thulani Ngubane.
"We still urge AMCU leadership to take control of their members on the ground so that the police can continue to do their work in providing safety to lives and properties."
The situation had calmed down by the afternoon, he said.
And Amplats added its voice of concern saying it "noted with disappointment, and condemns the increase in, incidences of violence and intimidation taking place around Rustenburg and surrounding communities," it said in a statement.
Police in armoured vehicles are patrolling hostels and settlements near the mines, with private security guards manning the gates.
Firms have welcomed the talks, fearing another wave of strikes that have already pummelled their share price and cost them as much as $1.2 billion in lost revenue.
"We are committed to finding a positive and sustainable resolution to this dispute, and management continues to engage at all levels to seek agreement," Lonmin CEO Ben Magara said earlier.
But the walkout is still likely to bite.
The strike is costing Amplats about 4,000 ounces of platinum per day or a loss of 100 million rand ($9 million) in daily revenue, according to spokeswoman Mpumi Sithole.
Implats reported attendance as low as 10 percent Thursday at facilities in the platinum belt north of Johannesburg.
Lonmin expects losses to be in the region of 3,100 ounces per day during the strike.
And in a country where as many as one in three is unemployed, there are also fears of further job losses.
Amplats, Implats and Lonmin have warned that previous strikes, rising operating costs and a sharp drop in platinum prices have led to the loss of about 11,000 jobs since December 2011.