Hundreds of workers are underground for a second day at Gold One International’s Modder East mine near Johannesburg, with the company unable to reach them during a standoff between two rival labour unions.
More than 540 workers have remained underground since the night shift ended on Sunday, according to Gold One. It’s not immediately clear whether some of the workers were staging a protest or being held against their will.
Jon Hericourt, a Gold One spokesperson, said by phone on Tuesday that the miners are being kept below the surface by the Association of Mineworkers and Construction Union. The batteries for radios underground have since died, and “our main issue at the moment is that we can’t communicate with anybody,” he added.
AMCU General Secretary Jeff Mphahlele described the situation as “an underground sit-in, not a hostage situation.”
The Minerals Council of South Africa is “deeply concerned about the health and safety” of the workers, it said in an emailed statement. The employees “have been underground well past their statutory shift”, and some reportedly have been injured, said the MCSA, whose members are mining companies.
For more than a decade, Gold One has identified the National Union of Mineworkers as the recognized labour group, according to the company. However, AMCU claims to represent the largest number of workers and to meet the criteria needed to be recognized. They have threatened to go on strike in the past.
NUM spokesperson Livhuwani Mammburu said, “567 workers are still being held hostage” and that its members were injured as they attempted to exit the mine.
He said there are growing concerns over a lack of food and medication needed by the workers being held against their will.
It is of “utmost importance” that the mine employees “all come to the surface while the situation is peacefully resolved,” the MCSA said.