Celani Sikhakhane in Okhukho

Seventy-five striking workers emerged from the underground darkness of the Zululand Anthracite Colliery (ZAC) in Nongoma on Wednesday after management cut off oxygen supplies in the shafts to force them out.

ZAC management threatened the workers with suffocation if they did not bring an end to their two week long occupation of the mine after local police failed to clear the shafts in the early hours of Wednesday morning.

Upwards of 75 miners staged a sit-in on 14 April after ZAC refused to reinstate workers’ benefits that had been taken away in March 2020 at the onset of the pandemic.

On 19 April, ZAC attempted to put an end to the strike by hiring a private security company, Van Damme, to prevent strikers’ loved ones from bringing them food and water.

After this failed to end the sit-in, local police entered the mine at midnight on Tuesday, but the workers said they knew the system of tunnels better than the cops and were able to hide from them deep in the mines.

Having seemingly exhausted all other routes, ZAC cut off oxygen supplies to the mines, and at 3 pm on Wednesday, all 75 miners emerged from the shaft.

After seeing sunlight for the first time in almost two weeks one of the miners told Scrolla.Africa that the company realised that police were unable to get them up and resorted to cutting off the oxygen so that they couldn’t breathe.

“I’m weak and frail from this but I had to participate in this strike because our rights have been exploited. The company has stripped us of our benefits such as provident fund, medical aid and our salaries, which were slashed down from R15,000 to R6,000. It is painful and we won’t back down,” said Phindile Mkhize.

Workers were fetched with cars from eNgwabe and Deep E shafts and ferried to the main offices of ZAC where management was waiting for them.

When they arrived, most of them looked frail and dirty but after an hour inside, they came back clean, as they’d had an opportunity to bathe and change into clean clothes.

Delegates from the traditional council of KwaZungu, eMatheni and KwaMpungose were present on the scene to demand that management bring representatives of the strike into negotiations with their unions, the National Union of Mineworkers and Association of Mineworkers and Construction Union (AMCU).

Mfanawenyanga Dlamini of AMCU told Scrolla.Africa that the management had turned workers against them by cutting off communication on 19 April, when security blocked all correspondence with the outside world.

“They started to deploy a new security company called Van Damme to block us from meeting the striking workers. This is where workers thought that we sold them out and they did not want anything to do with us as union representatives,” said Dlamini.

When workers finally met outside the gates of the company, they vowed to continue their strike on the ground.


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