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‘It’s a hostage situation’: SAPS says 15 people with traditional weapons holding hundreds of miners underground

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Mineworkers who have emerged, however, told journalists that they voluntarily remained underground, staging a sit-in, demanding that Amcu be recognised as the major union at the mine.

On Wednesday afternoon, the SAPS said more than 400 mineworkers at Gold One East Operations mine were still held underground against their will by their colleagues. Picture: Itumeleng English, Independent Newspapers

The South African Police Service (SAPS) said that workers at Gold One Mine’s Modder East shaft in Springs, east of Johannesburg, who emerged from underground on Wednesday, told them that they had been held hostage since Sunday.

This view is in contrast to the images of defiant mineworkers and members of the Association of Mineworkers and Construction Union (Amcu) who insist that for four days the miners elected to stage a sit-in demanding recognition for the union at the mine.

Earlier, it was reported that more than 500 mineworkers had been stuck underground since Sunday when they went down for a shift. They were scheduled to emerge on Monday morning.

On Wednesday morning, a group of more than 100 workers emerged from the mine.

By Wednesday afternoon, police said more than 400 workers at Gold One East Operations mine, in Springs, were still held hostage underground. Picture: Itumeleng English, Independent Newspapers

The mineworkers who spoke to journalists at the mine insisted that they were voluntarily fighting for their rights and stated that they wanted the National Union of Mineworkers (NUM) to be scrapped as the majority union, because it has been overtaken by Amcu.

However, speaking to broadcaster Newzroom Afrika, Gauteng SAPS spokesperson Brigadier Brenda Muridili said the workers who emerged from the mine told police that they have been held hostage.

“At this stage we can confirm that 107 miners have emerged, they are on their way out. They were immediately attended to by paramedics on site,” said Muridili.

“The number (of total workers underground) that we were given was 540, to that add three people that went down yesterday – two paramedics and a security officer. They went down there as they were requested to assist a person who was allegedly injured.”

By Wednesday afternoon, police said more than 400 workers at Gold One East Operations mine, in Springs, were still held hostage underground. Picture: Itumeleng English, Independent Newspapers

Before 11am, Muridili said there were around 400 people still stuck underground – including the paramedics and security officer.

She said the situation at the mine in Joburg is being treated by SAPS as a hostage situation.

“The police at this stage, we can confirm that it is a hostage situation,” said Muridili.

“They (the miners who emerged on Wednesday) say it is a group of 15 or so of their colleagues, they are also miners, who are down there. They have traditional weapons – knobkerries, spears and what not. This group that came out, they said they told the hostage-takers that come what may, they are going out.”

By Wednesday afternoon, police said more than 400 workers at Gold One East Operations mine, in Springs, were still held hostage underground. Picture: Itumeleng English, Independent Newspapers

Gauteng provincial SAPS commissioner Lieutenant-General Elias Mawela has toured the mine where several units of police, including hostage negotiators and the tactical response team have been deployed.

Both unions, Amcu and NUM claim the workers underground are their members, giving varied reasons for the mineworkers not returning to the surface at the end of their shift.

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