South African gold, platinum miners take co-workers hostage to force owners to recognize union

Miners in South Africa are taking their co-workers hostage and tormenting them to force their corporate bosses and mine owners to recognize a new labor union.

A bombshell report from the Wall Street Journal revealed that violent protests have been taking place in various underground mines across the country due to a turf war between two of its largest mining unions.

The unauthorized strikes began at Gold One in October with two underground protests and quickly spread to several other mines including Impala Platinum. South Africa is the largest platinum producer in the world and a key gold producer.

At one of the recent Gold One wildcat strikes, a strike undertaken by unionized workers without the approval of the union, a miner named Mmamiya Mayane and her team were directed by ax-wielding coworkers to follow them and were held for 4 days, starved and beaten. The kidnappers had sent a note to management above ground to send food and threatened to kill their hostages.

"We would just sit, we couldn’t even sleep," Mayane said. "We were stressed, thinking about our families."

Ziyaad Hassam, head of legal for Gold One reported that one of the miners held hostage had to be hospitalized from severe lacerations he received after being whipped repeatedly.

"A sit-in of this nature, where it effectively becomes a hostage situation, was previously unheard of in the industry,” Hassam said, adding that the company has offered counseling to employees who were held hostage underground and their families.

The two unions involved in the turf war are the National Union of Mineworkers (NUM) which is aligned with the governing African National Congress, and the Association of Mineworkers and Construction Union (AMCU) which is more militant but acts as the majority union in the platinum industry.

When AMCU started a legal process to become Gold One's representing union in June, which had an exclusive agreement with NUM at the time, many miners decided they didn't want to wait for an official agreement and took matters into their own hands.

In October, Mnikelo Faniso, a foreman at Gold One Modder East was stopped by armed men along with his team and told them that if the mine did not recognize AMCU, they were not to work.

“About five miners tried to leave. They didn’t want to be part of it. They were beaten,” Faniso, 54, said.

“We were afraid,” Faniso said. After 3 days, 175 miners were able to escape by standing up to their captors.

“I cried when I got out,” Faniso said. “I don’t know how I survived the ordeal.”

After that particular strike, NUM relinquished its exclusive representation rights. However Gold One stated they could not speed up the legal process required to recognize AMCU. They have thus far fired 500 employees over the protests.

"The underground strikes are absolutely unacceptable,” said Victor Ngwane, a union organizer for NUM. “That’s a criminal act, to put the lives of many people in danger. You also risk jobs, and the whole operation."

Image: Title: gold mine
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