Hundreds of workers leave South African gold mine after three days being held 'hostage' underground

Hundreds of workers have left an underground gold mine in South Africa after being prevented from leaving for three days.

More than 550 workers were being held there against their will, after miners from the opposing, unregistered union allegedly prevented hundreds of employees from leaving after they had finished their night shift on Monday at the Modder East mine to the east of Johannesburg.

The company which runs the mine estimated up to 120 of the miners were supporters of the unregistered union that prevented their colleagues from leaving.

Gold One International added: "While this ordeal has been a traumatic experience, we are relieved to confirm that all employees are now out of harm's way."

However, the unregistered union, The Association of Mineworkers and Construction Union (AMCU) disputed the version of events, instead claiming the workers stayed willingly in support, denying anyone was being held against their will, despite police calling it a "hostage" situation.

Some 15 miners were wounded in the ensuing scuffles, with at least one suffering a serious head injury, the mine's chief, Jon Hericourt said.

He claims a paramedic and an officer went into the mine to bring the man to the surface, but were also taken captive.

Earlier on Wednesday, more than 100 miners managed to force their way out, the company's legal chief said, adding: "This morning, they banded together and overpowered those controlling them and blocking the exits.

"They are tired, exhausted and dehydrated."

The AMCU said it represents most of the miners at the mine in question, and wants to be recognised.

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Regional Secretary Tladi Mokwena said: "Look, the dispute is simple, and we have been saying this for the past few days.

"Workers are saying they do not wish, or no longer want, to belong to the National Union of Mineworkers (NUM). They want to be represented by AMCU as the trade union of their choice.

"Management and NUM are refusing by all means to grant AMCU access into the operation in terms of recognition," he said.

Mr Mokwena added AMCU officials were not allowed near the site during the incident.