Some of the miners who stayed underground for more than two days in a standoff between rival South African labour unions began returning to the surface Wednesday, their representatives said.
The National Union of Mineworkers (NUM), one of the two unions involved, said 107 of the more than 500 workers who had failed to emerge from the Gold One mine in Springs, east of Johannesburg, after a night shift on Monday morning "have come back to the surface".
"They are currently at the medical station for further check-ups," NUM spokesman Livhuwani Mammburu told AFP.
NUM and management at the mine had alleged the workers were being "held hostage" by members of the Association of Mineworkers and Construction Union (AMCU), a rival union.
AMCU denied the allegations saying the miners were staging a "sit-in" protest.
"I am told that they overpowered those that were holding them hostage and ran away," the NUM's Mammburu said of the 107 who made it out Wednesday.
PAY ATTENTION: Сheck out news that is picked exactly for YOU ➡️ click on “Recommended for you” and enjoy!
Rescue and security teams were working to get the remaining miners out, he said.
The AMCU's regional secretary Tladi Mokwena disputed this account, saying all the miners were coming out "willingly" having run out of food.
"Management has closed all the routes for them to receive food. So, we couldn't allow workers to stay underground without food," he said.
Police did not immediately reply to a request for comment.
On Tuesday, police spokeswoman Dimakatso Nevhuhulwi said officers were "on standby" and monitoring the situation while talks between the mine and the unions were ongoing.
An AFP reporter at the scene on Tuesday evening said police and security forces patrolled the area as about 100 miners, mostly from the AMCU, sang protests songs as they waited for the outcome of the meeting between the mine management and unions.
The dispute revolves around union representation at the mine, where the NUM is currently the only group officially registered.
The AMCU says an overwhelming majority of miners have signed up to join it. But it is yet to be given official representation, which it says is the reason for the protest.
The NUM was founded in 1982 by the country's President Cyril Ramaphosa, a former labour unionist. It remains the nation's biggest mineworker union.
New feature: Сheck out news that is picked for YOU ➡️ click on “Recommended for you” and enjoy!