Thousands of gold miners returned to their shafts in South Africa on Friday after a pay deal to end the wave of strikes that had halted production of the precious metal, operators said. AngloGold Ashanti and Harmony Gold reported large worker turnout, but production will take a few days to resume as safety procedures need to be carried out first. \"AngloGold Ashanti is pleased to report that most workers have started returning to the three West Wits mines this morning,\" the company said in a statement. Harmony reported that by end of Thursday 98 percent of its workers had returned and was checking whether the remaining two percent had proper excuses for still being absent. \"We will only be in full production most likely towards the end of the weekend. We will only see our first production shift on Sunday evening,\" Harmony spokeswoman Marian van der Walt told AFP. Gold Fields is the only operator which still has a mine shut after it sacked 8,100 striking workers on Tuesday. At AngloGold Ashanti\'s Mponeng, TauTona and Savuka mines, the \"focus now is on preparing these operations to ramp up production safely,\" the company said.For those who have not yet returned, AngloGold Ashanti said the dismissal process is proceeding. It did not give numbers still staying away since the strikes in the gold mine sector started last month. Gold Fields\' KDC East mine is still shut after it sacked 8,100 strikers, of which 7,300 have appealed to get their jobs back. It will likely re-open sometime next week after processing the appeals. Only only one of its mines, Beatrix, is back in full production. \"Our KDC West returned last week and most of the shafts have started hoisting ore from underground but full production will only be ... early to middle of next week,\" Gold Fields spokesman Sven Lunsche told AFP. On Thursday the gold mine owners and leading unions signed a pay deal to end months of often violent labour unrest that has cost the South African economy at least $1.2 billion. But a small and splinter union rubbished the deal claiming it was imposed on the workers. \"This is the kind of tendency that some so-called big unions are making everyday by undermining mandate-givers which are the workers,\" said Joseph Mathunjwa, leader of the Association of Mineworkers and Construction Union (AMCU). South Africa, the continent\'s top gold producer, has over 100,000 people employed in gold mines, most of them concentrated to the west of commercial hub Johannesburg. The work stoppages have halted production at numerous leading mines in the country\'s vital sector, with strikers spurred on by a wage increase of up to 22 percent won by Lonmin platinum miners in September. Over 50 people died in the worst spasm of labour violence to hit South Africa since apartheid, which ended 18 years ago.