- Written by Nobre Simelane
- BBC News, Johannesburg
Workers at a South African mine have begun to resurface after being held underground for three days in what police are calling a hostage situation.
Police said hostage-takers armed with clubs and mining tools detained more than 500 miners at the Gold One mine.
As workers began to surface on Wednesday, one person told the BBC they had to be “forced” to leave.
Miners were trapped Sunday in a dispute between two unions.
The National Union of Mineworkers (NUM) said “hooligans” had held members against their will.
But the rival Mineworkers and Construction Workers’ Union (Amcu) denied it had trapped workers at the mine near Johannesburg. Amcu claimed the miners were willing to be there to stage a “sit-in” protest.
More than 100 workers returned from the mine Wednesday morning. “I forced myself to leave because I was worried about my health,” one worker, who asked not to be named, told the BBC.
Rwazi said he has some sympathy for Amku, which has been fighting for about five months to get legal approval for the mine. NUM currently has a “shut down” agreement with Gold One Mine. This means that the NUM is the only trade union allowed to represent workers there.
“I agree with the fight to allow separate unions to form in the mines, but…I cannot say that I support their approach,” Rwazi said.
On Wednesday, workers’ families gathered outside the mine, waiting for their loved ones to come out.
One woman told the BBC that she had been camping out since Monday morning because her husband had not returned from work the night before.
“I’m hurting. I don’t know when my husband will come back. He’s not feeling well… He has tuberculosis.
“My husband is the breadwinner. I’m afraid to go home because I can’t answer my children’s questions,” she said.
Police spokeswoman Brenda Mdiri said officers were interviewing miners as they left the mine.
“The people we interviewed said they were held against their will. They told us about 15 hostages. I can’t say if there are,” she said.
Mine management echoed the police and NUM assessment that the miners had been taken hostage.
Amcu has accused Gold One’s management of colluding with NUM, an allegation denied by the mine.