By Sherilee Lakmidas
JOHANNESBURG (Reuters) - Some South African gold miners have ended their strike for higher wages and were heading back to work after just three days, bolstering confidence the strike could be formally called off on Friday.
This would be a relief to Africa's largest economy, hit by strikes across a range of sectors including auto making, which have cost tens of millions of dollars a day in lost output.
The National Union of Mineworkers (NUM) has been consulting its members on a revised offer from gold producers and the return to work showed some of its members have accepted the terms of the new deal.
"The strike is partially over," Lesiba Seshoka, a spokesman for the NUM, told Power FM radio on Friday. He did not indicate how many workers had returned nor would he comment on reports employers had revised their pay offer to 10 percent.
Separately, Sibanye Gold said workers at its Kloof mine near Johannesburg had ended a strike as of last night and that it hoped workers at its Beatrix mine in the Free State province would return today.
In addition to Sibanye, South Africa's other main gold producers - AngloGold Ashanti, Gold Fields, Harmony Gold - had also been impacted.
Trade unions rejected gold producers' previous offer of 6.5 percent and the state broadcaster SABC, citing unnamed sources close to the talks, said the revised offer was 10 percent. Inflation is currently running at 6.3 percent.
Companies, squeezed by soaring costs and falling prices, have said they cannot afford big pay rises.
NUM, which represents two-thirds of the country's unionized gold miners, had been seeking increases of 15 to 60 percent while its hardline rival AMCU wants wage hikes of up to 150 percent for the lowest paid workers.
The Association of Mineworkers and Construction Union (AMCU) has not been on strike in the gold sector but said it would consider the latest industry offers at a meeting on Sunday.
"If they have accepted 10 percent, the companies and NUM will try and force AMCU members to accept that," AMCU president Joseph Mathunjwa told Reuters.
Operations where AMCU has the majority, such as AngloGold's Mponeng - the world's deepest mine - have worked normally throughout the strike.
If the gold dispute is resolved, attention will turn to talks in the platinum sector, where AMCU is the dominant union after poaching tens of thousands of disgruntled members from NUM in a brutal turf war that erupted last year.
Dozens of people were killed in 2012 in violence related to the union rivalry, which unleashed a wave of wildcat strikes that rocked South Africa's gold and platinum sectors, leading to sovereign credit downgrades.
But the gold strikes have been generally peaceful, raising hope that tensions in the platinum belt can also be contained.
Hopes of an end to a strike in the gold sector saw the South African rand firm to a session high of 10.1900 against the dollar.
(Additional reporting by Ed Stoddard; editing by Keiron Henderson)