Wires

UPDATE 3-Some South African truckers suspend strike

* Two smaller unions agree to return to work

* Biggest transport union under pressure to follow

* Fuel, consumer good, cash deliveries disrupted

(Adds denial by third small union of strike suspension)

By Agnieszka Flak and Wendell Roelf

JOHANNESBURG, Oct 9 (Reuters) - Some of South Africa'sstriking truckers have agreed to return to work on Wednesday,easing pressure on Africa's biggest economy where two weeks oflabour unrest in the transport sector have hit supplies of fuel,cash and consumer goods.

But disputes in the mining sector escalated after Gold One

fired the majority of its 1,900 workers at itsEzulwini operation, paralysed since last week by a wildcatstrike. Atlatsa Resources said it had also fired 2,161miners for an illegal strike.

Two small transport unions agreed to abandon the truckers'strike, putting pressure on the biggest labour group, the SouthAfrican Transport and Allied Workers Union (SATAWU) - whichrepresents about 28,000 workers - to reach a deal and suspendits calls to widen the boycott.

Another small transport union, however, denied reports itsmembers would also suspend strike action, saying negotiationswere continuing.

An employers' association had earlier said three unions hadsuspended the strike because "employers have now offered doubledigits (a pay rise) for the year". It said it was still in talkswith all groups to hammer out a final deal.

Since August, almost 100,000 workers across South Africa,including 75,000 in the mining sector, have downed tools inoften illegal and violent strikes that may hit economic growththis year and undermine investor confidence in the minerals hub.

The rand currency , which fell to 3-1/2 year lowsagainst the dollar on Monday on worsening investor sentimentabout labour strife, firmed after the news of the unions sayingthey would end their walk-out.

SATAWU is demanding annual wage increases of 12 percent fortwo years - more than double the inflation rate, while employershave offered a total 18 percent pay rise over that period.

"We are willing to compromise on our demands, but only aslong as the employers do the same," said Vincent Masoga, aspokesman for SATAWU.

An employers' body said last week that the freight industrywas losing around 1.2 billion rand ($135 million) in turnovereach week. If the protests expand to rail and ports, exports ofcoal and other minerals would also be hit.

GOVERNMENT CRITICISED

Affected companies include logistics groups Imperial Holding, Super Group , Grindrod , Barloworld

and Bidvest .

President Jacob Zuma's ruling African National Congress hasbeen criticised for letting the strikes spread. Moody's ratingsagency downgraded government bonds a notch last month, sayingineffectual governance posed a long-term economic risk.

Large parts of the mining sector, responsible for about 6percent of gross domestic product, have been brought to astandstill in the last two months by wildcat strikes by morethan 15 percent of its workforce.

Platinum miner Lonmin reached a deal inSeptember to end a deadly wildcat strike for a yearly wageincrease as high as 22 percent for some miners.

Within hours of the deal, workers at nearby platinum minescalled for similar raises. In the days that followed, wildcatstrikes hit sectors including gold, iron and car manufacturing.

Last week, mining giant Anglo American Platinumfired 12,000 of its workers who went on an illegal strike,raising the stakes in the labour disputes. Analysts are warningof further job losses and the closure of marginal shafts.

Almost 50 people have been killed in the current labourstrife - 34 of them by shot dead by police on Aug. 16 atLonmin's Marikana mine in the deadliest security incident sincethe end of apartheid in 1994.

"The ongoing violence that has led to the senseless anduntimely death of workers will further discourage directinvestment in the industry," Bheki Sibiya, chief executive ofthe Chamber of Mines, said in a statement.

Kumba Iron Ore said it could not honour itscontractual obligations to deliver ore to ArcelorMittal's SouthAfrican unit due to an illegal protest at its giantSishen mine.

On Monday, a local government workers' union said it alsoplanned a protest in the next few days, the first sign of labourunrest spreading into the public sector.($1 = 8.8828 South African rand)

(Additional reporting by Xola Potelwa, Sherilee Lakmidas andStella Mapenzauswa; Editing by Jon Herskovitz and Pravin Char)

((agnieszka.flak@thomsonreuters.com)(+27 11 775 3154)(ReutersMessaging: agnieszka.flak.thomsonreuters.com@reuters.net))

Keywords: SAFRICA STRIKES/