More than 500 miners who remained underground for nearly three days during a dispute between rival South African labor unions have all been brought back to the surface, the police confirmed on Wednesday.
A total of 455 workers, which included paramedics and security guards, emerged into the afternoon daylight after the first group of 107 miners had already returned to the surface earlier in the morning. Brenda Muridili, a police spokeswoman, stated that the mine rescue team had cleared the underground area and that paramedics on the surface had provided medical assistance to four injured individuals, including a security officer, who were subsequently taken to the hospital for further medical treatment.
Authorities confiscated sticks and screwdrivers found in the mine lift and announced their intention to open a case of kidnapping and assault in response.
The miners had failed to emerge from the Gold One mine located in Springs, east of Johannesburg, after a night shift on Monday. The National Union of Mineworkers (NUM), one of the two unions involved, and the mine’s management had alleged that the workers were being “held hostage” by members of the rival Association of Mineworkers and Construction Union (AMCU). AMCU denied the allegations, claiming that the miners were participating in a “sit-in” protest. However, police later reported that some miners confirmed in interviews with detectives that they were indeed held against their will.
NUM’s spokesman, Livhuwani Mammburu, stated that some of the miners who resurfaced in the morning did so after overpowering those who were holding them hostage. AMCU’s regional secretary, Tladi Mokwena, had earlier asserted that all the miners were coming out willingly because they had run out of food. Mokwena explained, “Management has closed all the routes for them to receive food. So, we couldn’t allow workers to stay underground without food.”
The dispute revolved around union representation at the mine, where the NUM is the only officially registered group. AMCU claimed that an overwhelming majority of miners had signed up to join their union but were not yet officially represented, which they considered the reason for the protest. The NUM was founded in 1982 by South Africa’s President Cyril Ramaphosa, a former labor unionist, and remains the nation’s largest mineworker union.