Workplace unrest continued for several days with dire consequences at a subterranean operation.
Authorities are examining why hundreds of employees stayed underground for more than 96 hours.
The Gold One company confirmed a group of more than 400 crew members failed to return to the surface at the end of their shift, between 7 and 11 December 2023.
The employer initially blamed balaclava-clad workers for holding colleagues hostage at the Modder East Mine. However, it was later corrected as a voluntary protest.
Emergency responders found 12 employees had suffered fractures, deep lacerations, muscle sprains, contusions and blows to the head. Others complained about dehydration, malnutrition and fighting. Some described conditions as unbearable.
“We saw that our comrades were fainting. Others were collapsing,” worker Thembisile Nzesane said according to Agence France Presse.
“It was very difficult underground. We did not eat anything for four days … [and] the hunger brought us out,” a female colleague who did not want to be identified added.
The employer was unimpressed, holding disciplinary hearings and dismissing about 50 individuals allegedly involved in the incident.
“We are very happy that this has come to an end now. We have got a lot of work to do with the unions to make sure it does not happen again,” spokesperson Ziyaad Hassam said according to the newswire agency.