MARIKANA (AFP) - Platinum producer Lonmin on Sunday ordered employees at its South Africa’s tragedy-hit mine to return to work or face dismissal but workers vowed to stay on strike after 34 colleagues were killed by police.

The London-listed company issued a final ultimatum to workers to end their wildcat stayaway three days after the country’s worst police violence since the end of apartheid at its Marikana mine.

“The final ultimatum provides RDOs (rock drill operators) with a last opportunity to return to work or face possible dismissal,” said spokeswoman Gillian Findlay said Sunday.

“Employees could therefore be dismissed if they fail to heed the final ultimatum.”

But workers at the mine in the North West province said they will press on with wage demands and slammed a return to work as “an insult” to their colleagues who were gunned down after police failed to disperse strikers on Thursday.

“Expecting us to go back is like an insult. Many of our friends and colleagues are dead, then they expect us to resume work. Never,” said worker Zachariah Mbewu, adding that no one would return to work as long as they were still in mourning.

“Some are in prison and hospitals. Tomorrow we are going back to the mountain (protest site), not underground, unless management gives us what we want.”

Fiery former ruling party youth leader Julius Malema fanned workers’ anger with a speech on Saturday attacking President Jacob Zuma, whom he wants voted out in the African National Congress’s year-end party elections.

“President Zuma decided over the massacre of our people, he must step down,” Malema, who was booted out of the ANC in April for fomenting divisions within its ranks, told a crowd.

“It has never happened before that so many people were killed in a single day and it became normal,” he added.

The scene of Thursday’s bloodshed was deserted and police maintained a low profile on Sunday at the hostel where workers were going about their daily chores. But anger remained.

“We are waiting for a word from the management,” said Fezile Magxaba, an underground supervisor at the mine. “Tomorrow we won’t return to work unless they listen to our demands of salary increases.

“People have died, we are angry. If we return it will be like they died in vain,” he said while doing his laundry at a communal tap.

Churches in the impoverished informal settlements surrounding the mine held intimate services.

“Many people are still scared of being seen as forming gatherings, even coming to church,” a worshipper at the Independent Pentecostal Church told AFP.

“We are mindful of the fact that our service may be regarded as a political or union gathering,” he said without giving his name.

Relatives of the missing mineworkers milled outside the mine’s hospital to check if their loved one had been admitted there, had been arrested or were among the dead.

The crackdown Thursday left 34 dead, 78 wounded and 259 detained and boosted the death toll to 44 after 10 already dead, including two police officers, in violence blamed on rivalry between unions.

The violent images of the crackdown have shocked the nation, drawing international condemnation and parallels to the brutality seen under the white minority apartheid regime.

The violence has seen the world’s number three platinum producer’s shares slump while rallying the platinum price.

Police have claimed self-defence with Zuma announcing a commission of inquiry on the top of investigations by the police and its independent watchdog body.

The mining minister has also said a task team will probe the platinum industry, which saw three workers beaten to death in another strike earlier this year.