Some of the more than 500 miners stuck underground in South Africa amid a union labor dispute have surfaced.
The National Union of Mineworkers (NUM) says members of its unregistered rival, the Association of Mineworkers and Construction Union, trapped miners in the Modder East gold mine at the end of their shift on Oct. 23.
There was reportedly a physical confrontation between the opposing union members wherein 15 miners were injured and at least one man sustained a serious head injury, per Sky News. The stand-off has been described as a hostage situation by the NUM. In total, 562 miners and other workers were believed to be in the mine.
“When mine officials sent a paramedic and a security officer to evacuate the man from the mine on Monday, they were also taken hostage, according to the head of the mine,” reports AP News.
The Association of Mineworkers and Construction Union has contested the National Union of Mineworkers’ account of the dispute. The AMCU has denied anyone is being held against their will and, instead, told South African media members that the miners are willingly staying in the mine as a sit-in demonstration against NUM. An AMCU official told reporters that the miners no longer wish to be a part of the NUM and that the union and the mine’s operators are refusing to grant AMCU permission to operate at the mine.
Ziyaad Hassam, legal council for Gold One International which owns the mine at the center of the dispute, said in a statement that 109 miners had forced their way out as of Oct. 25.
“At this stage we are still investigating so that we get a sense of what is going on. I’m not aware if the police negotiator played a role in them coming out. It was a surprise to see them coming out,” said the executive, per The Standard.
“This morning, they banded together and overpowered those controlling them and blocking the exits,” said Hassam. “They are tired, exhausted and dehydrated.”
The NUM is the only union officially registered to work at the Gold One mine. Founded in 1982 by South African President Cyril Ramaphosa, the NUM is the country’s largest mineworkers union. While it is not registered to operate at the mine, the AMCU – which was formed in 1998 after splitting with the NUM – has been a registered trade union since 2001.
“The rivalry between the AMCU and NUM unions is well known in South African mining circles and was partly behind one of the country’s most horrific mining episodes, when 34 striking miners were shot dead by police at a platinum mine in North West province in 2012,” reports Local 10.
The Modder East mine is operated by New Kleinfontein Goldmine. The company has estimated that at least 120 of the men in the mine are supporters of the AMCU, according to Al Jazeera.
The miners who broke out of the mine have reportedly given statements to police.