MORE than 13500 workers returned to work at Impala Platinum (Implats) in Rustenburg by Wednesday afternoon in what seemed to be the end of a six-week-long illegal strike, the company said.

"Today at a meeting of Implats, the National Union of Mineworkers (NUM) and a delegation of rock-drill operators, it was agreed to call an end to the illegal work stoppage," Implats said in a statement. "The company hopes that this also signals the end to the violence and intimidation."

By close of business, about 13500 workers had reapplied for their jobs. Among them were more than 3000 rock-drill operators, who were vital to get the mine up and running again. The mine planned to resume production on Monday.

"We hope to start phasing in production from Monday, March 5, following safety inductions and medical screening for all returning employees," Implats said

Earlier, NUM spokesman Lesiba Seshoka said workers were returning in busloads. "Buses were full today with people going back to work."

Implats said it would favour dismissed employees when filling positions over the next few days. "Returning employees will be given preference on a first-come, first-served basis over new applicants, and will receive their old benefits and terms and conditions."

Implats had previously only agreed to rehire 15000 of the 17200 dismissed workers. On Wednesday it said once it had reached 15000, it would keep a list of names to be given preference when new jobs became available.

More violence was reported on Wednesday morning. North West police spokesman Brig Thulani Ngubane said there were two attacks involving Implats workers.

"In the first incident, a Reconstruction and Development Programme house belonging to a 41-year-old man was attacked in Freedom Park by an unknown group of people," he said, referring to the informal settlement near Rustenburg.

The windows of the man's car and house were broken when the group threw stones.

Four Implats workers on their way to work were attacked, allegedly by a group of striking miners, in Freedom Park Phase Two.

"The victims were attacked with knobkerries and sustained injuries to the head, legs and body," Brig Ngubane said. They were taken to the Impala hospital for treatment.

Police were investigating a case of malicious damage to property and three cases of assault with intent to do grievous bodily harm.

Implats fired the 17200 workers after they refused to return to work earlier this month, despite a court interdict outlawing the strike, on which they embarked in January.

Since then, three people have died in violence involving dismissed workers. Scores of people were injured in violent intimidation, while more than 100 were arrested for public violence.

During the six-week strike Implats lost 100000 platinum ounces, which was equivalent to lost revenue of about R2bn, the company said on Tuesday.

SAPA