Sun. Apr 21st, 2024

A dramatic situation is unfolding at a South African gold mine, where over 500 workers are reportedly being held by a rival union, as confirmed by the mine’s management.

The ordeal began when members of an opposing, unregistered union allegedly obstructed hundreds of mine employees from leaving the Modder East mine, located east of Johannesburg, after they had completed their night shift on Monday.

The confrontations that followed left approximately 15 miners injured, with one individual sustaining a serious head injury, as reported by Jon Hericourt, the head of the mine. In a further unsettling turn of events, a paramedic and an officer who entered the mine to assist the injured miner were also taken captive.

Mr. Hericourt, responsible for overseeing the New Kleynfontein Gold Mine company, which manages the mine, expressed uncertainty regarding the exact number of miners considered “hostages” by the opposing union. He confirmed that a minimum of 543 employees remained underground in various sections of the mine, including engineers.

The National Union of Mineworkers (NUM), the sole recognized union at the mine, claimed that more than 500 of its members, including female workers, were being held by individuals they described as “hooligans.”

The origins of this situation trace back to a union dispute.

Mr. Hericourt attributed responsibility to members of the rival Association of Mineworkers and Construction Union (AMCU), alleging that they had demanded exclusive representation rights for miners at Modder East.

AMCU contested Mr. Hericourt’s version of events, contending that miners were engaged in a sit-in protest in support of their syndicate.

Notably, Mr. Hericourt mentioned the presence of hammers, picks, shovels, and other mining equipment in the underground sections, which could potentially be used as weapons.

NUM has called for police intervention to “apprehend the individuals holding [their] members against their will.”

Authorities have dispatched police personnel to the mine; however, their attempts to establish contact with those underground, employing mine telephones and two-way radios, have not yet been successful.

The rivalry between NUM and AMCU has been ongoing, dating back to the formation of the latter in 1998. The two unions have been competing for bargaining rights at various South African mines, and their conflicts played a role in the Marikana massacre of 2012, during which 34 striking miners were killed by police.

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