More than 500 miners remained trapped underground for more than 36 hours on Tuesday due to a confrontation between rival unions, police and unions said in South Africa.
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The origin and circumstances of the incident remain unclear: the management of the Gold One mine, a suburb of Johannesburg, and the National Union of Mineworkers (NUM), one of the two unions involved, claim that the miners are being “held hostage”.
But the Association of Mine and Construction Workers (AMCU) denied they were being held against their will, saying they were participating in a “sit-in” protest.
“About 567 NUM members are being held hostage by suspected AMCU members,” NUM spokesman Livhuani Mamboro told AFP.
These workers were supposed to return to the surface on Monday morning after their night shift, but they remained in the mine. Among them were approximately 70 women, Mr. Mamboro said.
The conflict is over union representation at this gold mine, where the NUM is currently the only officially registered group.
AMCU says the vast majority of miners have signed up to join its union but do not yet have formal representation, which it says is the reason for the social movement.
“Workers will only walk out when they get their organizational rights,” AMCU regional secretary Tladi Mokoena told AFP.
Police spokeswoman Dimakatsu Nevoholwe confirmed that the police were “on standby” and closely monitoring the situation while negotiations appeared to be ongoing.
According to NUM, the mine management, which did not respond to AFP’s requests, was going to send caregivers and a security team with food for the miners, but the latter are now also being held underground.
“Sadly, the crisis shows no signs of abating, and law enforcement does not appear to be effectively dealing with the ongoing hostage situation,” said Ashur Sarobin of the main opposition party, the Democratic Alliance.
NUM, the country’s largest miners’ union, was founded in 1982 by President Cyril Ramaphosa, a former trade unionist.