JOHANNESBURG – The health of some of the hundreds of mine workers who are staging a sit-in underground at Lanxess mine outside Rustenburg was deteriorating, said a worker who spoke to a union representative using a two-way radio on Wednesday.
The worker was speaking from underground to National Union of Metalworkers of South Africa (Numsa) shop steward, Kgaratji Tselana.
"It's very bad ... not nice ... people are suffocating from the fumes we are inhaling," the worker was heard saying.
Tselana said the striking workers have no food and they were surviving only on water. The sit-in began on Wednesday last week.
He said 25 workers were treated at the mine sickbay, while two others were taken to the surface to seek medical attention. The number of workers who have come to the surface for medical attention now stands at 12. At least 10 of them were brought to the surface earlier in the week.
Tselana said the number of workers involved in the underground strike stood at 245.
Numsa members began their underground sit-in on June 19. They are demanding recognition of their union, the reinstatement of dismissed workers and the suspension of a mine captain who is accused of sexual harassment.
Ronny Lennox, a Numsa representative, said the main concern at the moment was to get food to the workers underground.
"Our members have been on strike since last week Wednesday, and management does not allow food to go underground which is the biggest thing," complained Lennox.
"Now the update is the have been two casualties from underground, the other one is hydration and headache. It is important that we send food underground."
However, the mine said Numsa has worsened the situation for the striking workers, because some of them were being held against their will underground.
"Despite repeated offers by the Lanxess Mine to provide food and medical aid at the surface, the strikers have not left the mine. With their irresponsible actions, Numsa has drastically worsened the situation of the illegal strikers underground," said the mine in a statement.
"Moreover, it was reported to the Lanxess Mine that food supplied to strikers by Numsa was only shared with selected workers. In addition, strikers prevented sick workers from getting medical care.
"As an immediate emergency measure, the Lanxess Mine now sends electrolytes and medical nutrition underground and calls on Numsa strike leaders to ensure distribution especially to workers in need."
The strikers reportedly refused to consume the electrolytes and medical nutrition offered by the company.
Lanxess urged Numsa and the strike leaders to comply with the interdict issued by the Labour Court in Johannesburg on 22 June declaring the sit-in was an "unprotected strike".
"In particular, workers in critical health condition must be allowed to return to surface without further delay," the mine said.
On Wednesday morning some workers milled outside the mine. They were overheard inquiring about updates on the sit-in.