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Trapped Miners Face Starvation and Violence in South Africa

A four-day standoff at a gold mine in Springs has turned into a hostage crisis, with allegations of racial attacks and forced confinement

by Victor Adetimilehin

The situation at Gold One’s Modder East mine in Springs, South Africa, has reached a critical point, as more than 400 miners remain trapped underground in a volatile and complex standoff. The miners, who started a sit-in last week to protest the firing of 50 colleagues, are now facing a dire situation, with dwindling food supplies, physical assaults, and racial tensions.


According to the mine’s management, some of the miners, especially those wearing balaclavas, are forcibly keeping their colleagues underground, including 70 senior workers and contractors. They claim that the crisis is not a voluntary sit-in, but a hostile environment where miners are subjected to violence and intimidation.


Ziyaad Hassam, the mine’s head of legal, described the situation as “a combination of hostage-taking and sit-in protest”. He expressed concerns about the unpredictable nature of the crisis, especially given the depletion of food reserves underground.


The National Union of Mineworkers (NUM), which represents most of the miners, also confirmed the allegations of physical assaults, including racial bias. They said that white miners had been targeted, stripped, and attacked as a means to pressure the mine’s management and government to intervene.


Over the weekend, a gravely injured white miner emerged from the shaft, a testament to the brutal conditions underground. This incident, along with others, underscores the escalating racial tensions within the mine.


Mineral Resources Minister Gwede Mantashe, who visited the site on Monday, concurred with NUM’s assessment, emphasizing the critical need for police intervention. He said that the situation was “unacceptable” and that the government would not tolerate any form of violence or discrimination.


However, the Association of Mineworkers and Construction Union (AMCU), which is not officially recognized by the mine, disputed the characterization of the situation as a hostage crisis. They insisted that the workers underground were there of their own free will and that AMCU was limited in its capacity to intervene directly.


Based on a report by Mining Review, they accused the mine’s management of using the hostage narrative as a pretext to dismiss the workers’ grievances and justify a violent crackdown. They also blamed the NUM for colluding with the mine’s management and failing to protect the workers’ rights.


The mine’s management, the police, and the Department of Mineral Resources and Energy are working closely to resolve the crisis peacefully. They have been in contact with the workers underground, and have offered them food, water, and medical assistance. They have also urged them to come out voluntarily and peacefully and assured them that they would not face any reprisals.


The workers, however, have demanded that the 50 dismissed workers be reinstated and that their union representation be recognized. They have also asked for a meeting with the minister and the mine’s CEO to discuss their issues.


The standoff continues, with no clear end in sight. The safety and well-being of the miners still trapped underground hang in the balance.


The crisis has also exposed the deep divisions and mistrust among the unions, the employers, and the government, which have hampered the efforts to find a lasting solution to the sector’s challenges. It has highlighted the need for more dialogue, cooperation, and solidarity among the stakeholders, especially in the face of rising social and racial tensions.


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