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'They beat up those who wanted to go to the surface' - Gold One mineworker

Mineworkers claim some were threatened when they wanted to leave

Mineworkers leave Gold One mine in Springs after spending four days underground.
Mineworkers leave Gold One mine in Springs after spending four days underground.
Image: Thulani Mbele

Eating two slices of bread a day, drinking water and sleeping on rocks.

This is how hundreds of mineworkers who spent three days underground at the Gold One Modder East Operations in Springs, on the East Rand, survived since Sunday.

The mine on Wednesday said all employees had resurfaced and would receive medical attention.

At least three employees, who spoke to Sowetan after surfacing said they had been held hostage while four others said no one was kept against their will, and all employees were engaging in a sit-in voluntarily.

All employees spoke to Sowetan anonymously for fear of victimisation.

A female employee, 32, said she was held captive. “When I tried to get out, the organisers of the sit-in refused and threatened us with sticks,” said the woman.

The company on Monday said a group of Association of Mineworkers and Construction Union (Amcu) members were allegedly holding over 500 National Union of Mineworkers (NUM) members hostage at the mine’s Modder East Operations in Springs.

Gold One has a closed-shop agreement with NUM, which allows it to be the only union representing workers in the company.

Amcu, on the other hand, claims to have more members than NUM.

The company’s head of legal, Ziyaad Hassam, on Tuesday said it had been informed by some of the workers held captive that Amcu members were armed.

The woman said the alleged hostage takers told them that Amcu leaders were on their way to address them.

“No one came, I don’t feel good. I spent three days underground without my consent. I feel traumatised and wish the company could offer us counselling.

“I was scared throughout, wondering what would happen if I could perish. I have a child and a mother,” she said.

She said female mineworkers were only offered sanitary pads and wipes on Tuesday.

“We had to use a toilet located in the refuge bay,” she said, adding that she would join Amcu if the union did the right thing for workers.

"We didn't eat. We were only given food on Monday. I was given a slice of bread."

Hassam said: “We are going to send a team down to sweep the area just to make sure that there are no people left [underground].”

Another employee said he only survived on water.

“Though I did not consent to spending the three days underground, I felt that as workers were needed to resolve the labour union challenge we are facing because NUM is not assisting in resolving worker issues,” said the 43-year-old.

The father of five – who has been a general worker at the mine since 2014 – forms part of a group of mineworkers who were told that they needed to sign a document stating which labour union they preferred before they were let go.

He said some employees were assaulted with sticks.

“You’d be labelled a rat for wanting to go to the surface and they would beat you up. There were people checking if some of the workers wanted to escape.”

He said it was difficult to sleep because the temperature was either extremely cold or hot.

Another employee, 33-year-old man, said he and a group of about 100 colleagues who surfaced at dawn on Wednesday used an exit road dedicated for mine vehicles.

“We joined the chanting underground on Sunday afternoon and thought we would be released on Monday morning. We were shocked to see the underground strike escalating to three days.

“I was agreeing to the strike, but from Monday after we were not given food, it became a problem. I survived on water,” he said.

A Sowetan journalist chatting to one of the Gold One mineworkers who spent three days underground.

Posted by Sowetan LIVE on Wednesday, October 25, 2023

A group of four mineworkers said they were among the group that initiated the sit-in.

“We had a prior agreement as workers that we would have a meeting underground on Sunday. At the meeting we agreed to stage a sit-in, which would last until our demands are met due to the labour union challenges.

“This thing that the workers were being held hostage is a lie because the people who were leading us asked those who wanted to leave to go,” said one of them.

“The only thing that affected us was hunger. We only received food on Monday. We had only two slices per person on Tuesday. Not everyone received food. The company did not make any effort to provide us with food,” he said.

Amcu's Musa Khalipha said they have demanded that Gold One should run elections to determine if workers wanted Amcu to have organisational rights.

NUM deputy secretary-general Mpho Phakedi said the union will address members’ concerns.

Phakedi said the advantage of a closed-shop agreement was that it gave his union an upper hand and bargaining power.

sibanyonim@sowetan.co.za


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