Workers at more than half of the South African gold producers affected by a crippling strike have accepted a new wage offer and begun returning to work, union leaders said Friday.
Workers at "four of the seven companies have accepted and the others are still being briefed today," Lesiba Seshoka, spokesman of the National Union of Mineworkers (NUM), told AFP, expressing hope that the remainder of the workers would accept the offer and call off the strike.
"This may possibly mark the end of the strike," he said.
Tens of thousands of gold miners downed tools Tuesday night demanding higher wages in the latest in a series of strikes to hit South Africa.
The workers have settled for an average 8.0 percent rise plus accomodation allowances of around 2,000 rand ($197 / 150 euros).
The NUM, which represents nearly 70,000 affected workers, had demanded a 60-percent hike in basic wages as it battles to remain the dominant union in the gold sector.
Asked if the union was satisfied with the offer, Seshoka said the decision to accept it rested with the workers.
Workers at AngloGold Ashanti, the world's third-biggest bullion producer, which employs some 28,000 workers, returned to work for the Thursday night shift, said the union.
Striking employees at Sibanye Gold's Kloof operations had also resumed work on Thursday night.
Combined with the Driefontein operations, which had continued to operate normally through the strike, "Sibanye Gold is now operating at over 80 percent of its planned capacity", it said in a statement.
"Engagement with NUM continues to be positive and the NUM will be meeting its members at the Beatrix operations," said Sibanye.
Others that have accepted the new wage deal are workers at smaller producers Village Main Reef and Evander, which together employ around 5,000 people.
NUM secretary general Frans Baleni earlier confirmed that some workers had agreed to the offer from their bosses.
"There are some operations where they have returned to work and at other operations we are still finalising discussions," Baleni told AFP.
The seven firms represented by the Chamber of Mines had on Thursday reported that 16 of 23 mines were severely affected by the industrial action.
But by Friday they had pulled from their website a page that had been showing worker attendance data.
Police meanwhile denied a claim by the Association of Mineworkers and Construction Union (AMCU) that at least five of its members had been assaulted for not striking.
"Those reports have been proven to be false. We can say loud and clear that nobody was assaulted, nobody was intimidated," said Welkom city police spokesman Stephen Thakeng in Free State province.
The AMCU, a radical union which is in competition to the NUM, has not called a strike. It said the aggression against non-strikers occurred at the Sibanye Gold mine near Welkom.
The mine management was unaware of the incident.
The AMCU will decide at the weekend on pay demands and whether to down tools or not.
Gold remains a key industry in Africa's largest economy, accounting for 10 percent of export earnings and three percent of Gross Domestic Product.
Falling gold prices, a declining grade of ore and increased costs such as electricity and wages have drained gold firms' revenues.
Industrial action is common in South Africa during the mid-year months, when thousands of workers down tools for higher pay. The gold strikes follow ongoing stoppages in the construction and automobile sectors.
Observers feared similar unrest to widespread strikes last year, sparked by a police crackdown at Lonmin's Marikana platinum mine which left 34 dead.
But this year strikes have been relatively calm.