More than 400 South African gold miners who remained underground for four days, amid tensions between unions and the mine owners, returned to the surface on Monday, some telling AFP that workers had collapsed due to lack of food.The miners failed to emerge at the end of their night shift on Thursday at Springs, east of Johannesburg, in a near repeat of a three-day protest in October, the Gold One company said. The miners all came out on Monday. Rescue teams helped several injured back up, said Ziyaad Hassam, head of legal affairs at the Gold One mine in Gauteng province.”We are very happy that this has come to an end now,” Hassam told AFP. “We’ve got a lot of work to do with the unions to make sure it doesn’t happen again.”Gold One said last week a small group of balaclava-wearing employees took fellow workers “hostage”, preventing them from returning to the surface. But the company and miners later said a majority appeared to have deliberately remained underground as part of a protest. When they emerged on Monday, some miners raised their fist in the air as they walked past a security fence near the mine entrance.A few dozen workers and relatives who were camped outside the mine cheered as they started streaming out.One worker said conditions below ground had become unbearable, after four days with little food, leading miners to end their protest. “We saw that our comrades were fainting. Others were collapsing,” Thembisile Nzesane told AFP, speaking through the fence. – Union recognition -In October, a dispute over union representation at the mine led to more than 500 workers being trapped underground for almost three days. Disciplinary hearings over that incident led to the dismissal of about 50 workers. Rebel miners demanded they be reinstated, Hassam said. Some miners told AFP they also wanted their union of choice, the Association of Mineworkers and Construction Union (AMCU), to be officially recognised.AMCU representation was the central dispute in October.When they re-emerged, workers huddled under a large metal shed, where they were provided some food. A few sported AMCU t-shirts. Some changed and danced. A woman broke down in tears as relatives consoled her. “We wanted our union to be recognised,” a worker, who preferred to remain anonymous, told AFP. “It was very difficult underground. We didn’t eat anything for four days… The hunger brought us out”. Hassam of Gold One said events below ground had become “very critical” by Monday, with reports of some employees suffering from dehydration and fights among workers.About a dozen miners — some of whom had been held against their will — managed to escape or were released on health grounds over the weekend, he said. The mine would hold talks with AMCU representatives this week, he added.