Over 400 South African Miners Resurface After Underground Dispute

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More than 400 miners on Monday who had been underground for four days in South Africa have resurfaced.

Some of the miners were held back by colleagues against a backdrop of tensions following a recent murder in obscure circumstances, emerged from a gold mine east of Johannesburg.

“We’re very happy that it’s coming to an end,” Ziyaad Hassam, of the Gold One company operating the mine in the town of Springs, about 50km from Johannesburg, told AFP.

“We have a lot of work to do with the unions to make sure this doesn’t happen again,” he continued.

At the end of the night shift on Thursday, employees with their faces concealed under balaclavas seized their colleagues’ badges to prevent them from returning to the surface. According to Gold One and some miners, a majority of employees then deliberately remained underground in protest.

In October, more than 500 miners remained underground for three days due to a union dispute, as a result of which some 50 workers were dismissed.

Last week, an investigator sent by the operator to look into the cause of the October blockade was shot dead in circumstances that remain unclear.

Gold One suspects a link between the 55-year-old’s murder and the layoffs.

On Monday, the miners who had remained at the bottom of the mine for several days gradually reappeared in small groups, starting in the early morning. Some of them raised their fists when they found themselves back in the open air. Colleagues and relatives camped outside the site cheered them as they emerged.

According to some witnesses, conditions at the bottom of the mine had become unbearable, with little food or water: “We saw some of our comrades faint”, Thembisile Nzesane, who had just come out of the mine, told AFP.

According to Mr. Hassam, the situation had become “critical”, with some employees suffering from dehydration and tensions between miners leading to scuffles.

Once back on the surface, the miners were taken to a shed where food was distributed. Some took off their dirty clothes and started dancing. One woman burst into tears.

“We ate nothing for four days. Hunger drove us out,” confessed another miner who wished to remain anonymous.

Some of the miners wore T-shirts bearing the colors of the mining union AMCU. They told AFP that they were calling for trade union recognition in the mine. AMCU representation was at the heart of the October dispute.

The mine operator is due to hold talks with union representatives in the near future.