Fears for miners on second day of S.Africa underground protestTue, 19 Dec 2023 12:22:08 GMT

Frantic families waited at the surface Tuesday for news of more than 2,000 platinum miners who have taken over two shafts in one of South Africa’s biggest mine protests in years.Some 2,205 miners started the protest about 500 metres below the surface on Monday but Impala Platinum Holdings, or Implats, said 63 came up during the night in the difficult conditions.Ambulances were seen taking away some of the workers.The company has suspended all operations at the mine over what it called an “illegal underground protest”. Implats warned it will “address those employees who engage in illegal conduct and criminal acts in a decisive way”.The miners say they want promised bonuses and pension fund payments, and some said they had been suspended before the protest started for holding unauthorised labour meetings. Dozens of miners and families waited at the entrance to the Bafokeng mine, which employs 10,000 people.A few minutes after emerging from the protest, Mzimase Bandli, 51, told AFP he asked to be let out because a lack of food and water had made him nauseous.- Worried families -Sat on the pavement, Bandli said, “I have an intense headache and I haven’t eaten. I was dying of the cold down there.”The company, which bought the mine this year, said food had been sent underground. But families were fearful of the conditions.Nokwanda Nabambela, a 39-year-old mother of three, said she was “very scared” for her husband who had been working in the mine for six years.”We don’t know if they’ve eaten, some of them are on medication,” she said.”We can see that time is passing and we are worried about their condition. My children are asking where their father is and as you can see some of the women here are carrying babies.”Some of the suspended miners also waited at the entrance. They said some workers were owed more than $500 from share handouts promised before the ownership changed.National Union of Mineworkers (NUM) officials “managed to engage workers last night and started the process to address their concerns with management,” a company spokesman told AFP.”Hopefully we can respond today through the NUM and agree a process to return all workers to the surface,” he added.South Africa has seen a growing number of underground protests by miners.The government has also expressed concern over labour unrest in the crucial industry.More than 100 gold miners spent nearly three days underground in Springs near Johannesburg in October as rival unions battled for control.Another 440 staged a protest in another gold mine this month while 250 platinum workers demanding better wages occupied a shaft for three days at the same time.  Mining employs hundreds of thousands of people in South Africa — the biggest exporter of platinum and a major exporter of gold, diamonds, coal and other raw materials.