Gold One ‘hostage’ situation — tension mounts at Springs mine after police mobilise
The union Amcu claims that miners are voluntarily protesting underground at Gold One, but there are definitely people being held hostage.
If Alfred Stimela had his way, he would have climbed over the turnstile gate and rescued his son Thabiso himself.
But in the heat and dust outside the entrance to the Gold One mine, the 65-year-old grandfather could do nothing but wait. He had arrived on Tuesday afternoon in the hope that someone would finally give him news of his son.
He had heard on Monday morning that his son had not come up Gold One’s Modder East shaft after his night shift ended. On his cellphone are pictures of Thabiso’s two sons, one aged just 18 months, the other five years old.
Thabiso is one of the 500-odd miners who are reportedly being held hostage underground in a dispute between the mine and the Association of Mineworkers and Construction Union (Amcu). However, the union is not calling it a hostage situation — it says it is a voluntary sit-in.
“I am just looking to God’s mercy that he will be rescued,” said Stimela. “He is not political and I am sure he is being held against his will.”
On Thursday, Thabiso told his father he had heard that there was to be a strike. “I told him that if there is a strike, he must come straight home,” Stimela said.
While Stimela waited, police reinforcements arrived at the mine, which is not far from the East Rand town of Springs. Armoured police Nyalas rolled in with Public Order Police units, and a mobile headquarters arrived.
Police spokespersons did not return calls on Tuesday when contacted by GroundUp about the operation at the mine. Mine officials were also silent.
Gauteng Police Commissioner Elias Mawela met with mine management in the late afternoon.
The police presence at the mine was in accordance with the interim order granted on Monday night that interdicted Amcu members from intimidating or threatening Gold One’s employees. The South African Police Service (SAPS) was directed to take the necessary steps to ensure that the union complied with the interim order.
According to people GroundUp spoke to, the hostages were not in one place, but in several locations. Exactly how many people were underground, how many were armed, how many were sitting in voluntarily, and how many were held against their will was unclear. There were a few Amcu members carrying sticks, sjamboks and golf clubs above ground, in the mine property and outside it.
Shortly before this article was published, the police stated that approximately 550 mine employees were “reportedly held hostage. Three more people have been taken hostage after they were sent down to assist a person that was reported to be injured. The three are two paramedics and a security officer who was escorting them.”
Gold One is owned by BCX Gold Investment Holdings, which consists of Baiyin Nonferrous Group, the China-Africa Development Fund and Long March Capital.
What the dispute is about
The sudden police build-up was met with anger by Amcu members, in particular delegate Musa Khalipha. He told the gathered crowd of members that he had been at home collecting clean clothes when he heard that the police were placing razor wire around the shaft and offices.
“We’re willing to die for this cause, we are willing to die for what we want,” he said, adding that they would meet any police action with force.
Amcu says it is now the majority union at the mine, claiming 90% of the 1,850 miners as members. It is applying for a closed-shop agreement which will make it the only union at the mine. This has apparently put it at odds with the National Union of Mineworkers (NUM) and mine management.
Khalipha said that “the sit-in” had been planned a week ago by Amcu members affiliated with the mine.
Throughout the day, Amcu members waited outside the entrance to the mine in solidarity with their members underground and those who remained on the mine property.
Plastic bags carrying cool drinks and bread were passed through the turnstiles. These are meant for the miners underground. There had been little news from the miners. The only communication was from phones that can only phone out. Some Amcu members admitted that people had been beaten up underground.
Later in the afternoon, news filtered in that the mine authorities were preventing food from reaching the miners. Even the mine stope was now cut off and blocked.
The concern is that they don’t have food and some are on chronic medication.
Still, food continued to be passed through the gates, this time to the Amcu members who remained on the mine property and could not leave. They had spent the night there. Always close by were mine security kitted out in riot gear.
“They try to intimidate us. They tell us they are doing things for ‘your safety,’” Kwesi Mokotedi said.
He told GroundUp that he had signed up with Amcu because he was tired of the NUM, which he felt sided with mine management. He hoped Amcu would help get him a better wage. He earns R9,000 a month, which he says doesn’t go far.
Alfred Stimela was not the only relative on Tuesday desperately looking for information about a loved one stuck underground.
Evelyn Ntoka travelled from Heidelberg to get news about her brother Mduduzi Twala, a paramedic. On Sunday, Twala was sent underground to treat a miner who had been struck with a panga. The injured miner was released, but the hostage-takers prevented Twala from leaving.
“When my mother heard about it she passed out. We don’t know if he is safe,” Ntoka said.
At a press conference, Mpho Phakedi, the deputy general secretary of the NUM, said that they knew of 15 people underground who were injured, although none of them seriously.
“We had an opportunity to engage with management and the leadership of SAPS with a view of looking at opportunities of how we can help those people underground,” he said.
“We were hoping that by now we could be closer to the solution.”
Phakedi was hoping the police would launch a rescue operation.
At the other entrance, Stimela was also hoping. “Throughout the day, we’ve been hoping things will come to normal and he will be released. But nothing has happened.” DM
First published by GroundUp.