Worker turnout at platinum giant Lonmin's strike-hit South African mine plummeted Tuesday as hopes shifted to mediated talks to break a deadlock that has seen 44 people killed.
The London-listed firm said only eight percent of its 28,000 staff had reported for work, amid fresh reports of threats from striking miners against returning workers ahead of government-brokered talks on Wednesday.
"The outcome of the meeting will determine whether the strike continues or it ends. Again the issue of our salary demands will be raised," said Zolani Bodlani, a representative of the striking workers.
Labour Minister Mildred Oliphant expressed optimism that a deal would be found, after holding afternoon talks with representatives of the non-unionised strikers who have refused to call off a wildcat boycott until the world's number three platinum producer meets their wage demands.
"The meeting was fruitful. I think tomorrow we will resolve the issue," Oliphant was quoted by the Sapa news agency as saying.
On Wednesday, Oliphant will lead talks between unions, mine management and worker representatives to try broker a "peace accord" in the deadly stand-off that sparked the country's deadliest day of police violence since apartheid.
"We're hoping for the stabilisation and the resolution of the stalemate in Marikana, that's the essence really," her spokesman Musa Zondi told AFP.
A heavy police presence was visible around the mining area Tuesday with officers in five armoured trucks monitoring a group of striking miners who again gathered near the spot where police gunned down 34 people on August 16.
The shooting pushed the death toll to 44 after 10 people were killed in clashes blamed on inter-union rivalry that shut down production.
Striking workers have vowed to act on colleagues who return to work, sending attendance plunging to eight percent Tuesday from 13 percent on Monday and more than 50 percent at the weekend.
"There are unsubstantiated reports of intimidation in two mining areas," said the company.
"No incidents of violence have been reported. Management is appealing to all stakeholders to remain calm."
As armed private security guards manned the gates and patrolled the mine grounds Tuesday, police conducted random body searches outside the mine hostel and the informal settlement where the majority of the workers live.
"We've maintained our force and our visibility," said police spokesman Dennis Adriao, who would not give the number of police deployed.
Representatives of the striking miners, who are acting independently of unions, said they will attend the talks on Wednesday after meeting the labour minister.
"We were allowed to represent ourselves and all other unions will be present. We don't want any decisions to be taken on our behalf, so that is why we agreed to the meeting," said Bodlani.
Workers, who claim they earn 4,000 rand a month, are demanding 12,500 rand (1,190 euros, $1,490). Lonmin says the workers already earn around 10,000 rand when bonuses and other compensation are included.
Lonmin has urged all parties to take part in the mediated talks, and said an agreement would pave the way for negotiations on the crunch issue of wages which led rock drill operators to first down tools on August 10.
"The signing of a peace accord is considered the first step of the resolution process and will provide all parties with a framework within which agenda items -- such as wages -- can be discussed," the company said.
"Management encourages all parties to participate in the peace accord meeting so that we can stabilise our situation and move forward."