400 Miners Kept Underground in Protest Turned Hostage Situation in Springs, South Africa

Bianca Bridger
Bianca Bridger
Bianca holds a degree in Political Science from the University of Otago, New Zealand. As the Africa Desk Chief for Atlas, her expertise spans conflict, politics, and history. She is also the Editor for The ModernInsurgent and has interests in yoga and meditation.

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What You Need to Know: 

Miners of GoldOne-East near Johannesburg, who had originally been thought to be staging a sit-in protest following recent dismissals and union troubles have in fact been taken hostage by disgruntled coworkers. 

Earlier in October, 540 miners staged a protest against two unions, the Association of Mineworkers and Construction Union (AMCU) and the National Union of Mineworkers (NUM). Since 2012, the National Union of Mineworkers held a monopoly on the organisation of workers, until it withdrew from its agreement in November, leaving AMCU with organisational rights over the mine. The October protest was also deemed a hostage situation by Government and mine officials, however, some commentators claim that labelling the situation as such diminishes the real issues faced by miners in many regions of the country.

On Thursday the 9th of December around 400 miners failed to resurface after the night shift had ended, leading management to believe another sit-in protest had been organised. The motives behind the protest were unclear. Speaking to EastCoast Radio, GoldOne’s legal head Ziyaad Hassam stated, “Although we can’t confirm at this stage it’s related to the conclusion of disciplinary hearings yesterday (Thursday) where somewhere in the region of 50 employees were found guilty and dismissed. Those disciplinary hearings were in relation to the previous hostage situation.”

On Friday, two mine workers managed to escape from the mine and claimed that coworkers in balaclavas were holding the miners against their will. Among the hostages are management officials and contractors. 

Speaking to Newzroom Afrika, South Africa’s Mineral Resources Minister Gwede Mantashe said: “Three people emerged from underground heavily beaten, and once you begin to beat people up it means they are held hostage, they are underground against their own will, and therefore it should be dealt with as an offence that requires police intervention.” 

Speaking on the demands of the workers he stated, “There were a number of demands, one of them being to do away with a closed shop agreement with the NUM, and the NUM had volunteered to give that away to enable the workers to have freedom of association. But now they want a number of new demands, our view is that once you begin to have a new system and you have no appeals, you will have no system and no mine.” 

A resurfaced miner had reportedly been given a notice by the hostage takers for AMCU to acquiesce to the hostage taker’s demands in two hours. The hostage takers then threatened to kill a miner if their demands were not met. As of now, it is unclear if AMCU has agreed to comply or if any further harm has come to the miners. Four days later, the miners remain underground. 

Mantashe stated the matter is a “police case now, and they must deal with the hostage situation.”