Food shortage ends SA’s latest mine ‘hostage drama’

THE latest underground ‘hostage drama’ at a precious metals mine in South Africa was nearing its conclusion after workers started to return to surface.

EWN, an online publication, said on Monday a shortage in food supplies had forced employees at Gold One’s Modder East to end a ‘sit in’ that started four days ago.

This is the second impasse between the company and disgruntled workers at the Springs-based mine. Hundreds of Modder East employees ended an underground sit-in on October 25 as the Association of Mineworkers & Construction Union (AMCU) sought organisational rights at the mine.

In this latest event AMCU supporters allegedly blockaded the shaft exit last week in what started as a labour dispute over organising rights in October, said EWN in its report today. Subsequently, the company dismissed 74 workers upsetting the miners who want the disciplinary process to be scrapped.

The mine’s head of legal Ziyaad Hassam said about 300 of close to 500 mineworkers have resurfaced. “We anticipate that the remainder will also be coming up to surface in the coming minutes, but we will confirm that once that has been resolved,” he told EWN which posted its report at 2.15pm on Monday.

“We do think there is an end in sight. We certainly hope that everybody will be coming up to the surface. We will do a headcount to make sure that that is the case,” he said.

An underground dispute took place last week at the 420,000 ounce a year Bakubung platinum group metals (PGMs) mine owned by China’s Wesizwe Platinum. In that incident, employees protested against proposed restructuring at the mine.

Wesizwe, which is controlled by China’s Jinchuan Group, said up to 571 employees of its total 761 staff complement could be affected by the restructuring.

A switch in mining method at the Bakubung as well as the effects of two strikes in each of 2022 and 2023, and a third unprotected, five-week stoppage had compounded the mine’s problems. Staff from all levels and throughout the business would be affected, it said.

In its restructuring announcement, Wesizwe said there “simply does not appear to be any alternatives” as the mine was lossmaking, and owing to a need to “ensure that Bakubung is placed on a path of profitability and growth”.