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MARIKANA, South Africa -- (UPDATE - 4:09 p.m.) Platinum giant Lonmin eased off its threat to fire miners who failed to return to work Tuesday, as South Africa urged the firm to allow more time to mourn those killed in a wildcat strike.
The world's third-largest platinum miner had warned the 3,000 workers on an illegal strike that they could face dismissal if they failed to report back to the job early Tuesday.
It has also urged the other 25,000 employees at the mine to come back, insisting they will be safe.
Workers were trickling in Tuesday, but as the deadline passed top mining executive Mark Munroe told local radio that mass firings would be counterproductive as the Marikana mine seeks to return to normalcy.
"I don't think it's going to contribute to a more stable environment if Lonmin goes out and puts deadlines and ultimatums and says we will fire everyone if no one comes to work," he said.
The government had urged Lonmin to allow more time for families to grieve the 44 people killed in strike-related violence, with six bodies still awaiting identification.
"In the context of the mourning of the people who passed away as a result of this strike, we thought it was important for them to consider the issue of suspending the deadline ... " said Collins Chabane, chief of the president's office.
He said many workers are still afraid of being attacked in the inter-union clashes that left 10 dead in the days leading to Thursday's police crackdown, when 34 miners were gunned down.
"The situation is volatile, but we hope that the workers and the management will be reasonable enough for them to understand the gravity of the situation," Chabane said on national radio.
"The violence has been there, people have been brutally killed, and as long as people still brandish weapons and people still gather in the manner in which they are doing, people are worried that the violence can still flare up again," he said.
Over the last week, hundreds of workers have gathered near the mine, often carrying spears, machetes and clubs. Police said the mineworkers had charged on officers with these weapons and fired some shots, provoking the deadly shooting.
Police vans patrolled the area as small groups of workers entered the mine gates Tuesday. Lonmin said 27 percent of the workforce took up their tools on Monday.
President Jacob Zuma has declared a week of mourning with nationwide memorials planned for Thursday.
Authorities said they hoped that the process of identifying the bodies would be completed by Wednesday in time for the memorials planned around the country.
Many of the bodies will be transported long distances to return to the home villages of the mine's largely migrant workforce.
Violence at Marikana erupted in clashes blamed on members of the powerful National Union of Mineworkers and the radical new Association of Mineworkers and Construction Union.
The AMCU has made inroads by promising huge wage increases, such as a tripling of the basic monthly wage of 4,000 rand ($486, 400 euros) for rock drill operators, who organized the illegal strike.
That led to clashes with the established NUM whose membership has eroded since the emergence of the AMCU.
But Lonmin said it had not formally received any demands from the strikers and said the AMCU had not participated in its talks with workers.
Munroe said that in addition to salaries, rock drill operators receive bonuses and other allowances that bring their monthly pay to more than 11,000 rand -- before a nine percent increase that kicks in on October 1.