Workers at a South African mine have resurfaced after being held underground for three days in what police are calling a hostage situation.
Hostage-takers armed with weapons like clubs and mining tools had held more than 500 miners at the Gold One mine, the police said.
As workers began to surface on Wednesday, one told the BBC escaping “was the only way to save my life”.
The miners were trapped on Sunday amid a dispute between two trade unions.
The National Union of Mineworkers (NUM) said “hooligans” had held its members against their will.
But the rival Association of Mineworkers and Construction Union (Amcu) denied it had trapped workers at the mine, located near Johannesburg. Amcu insisted the miners were there willingly and were staging a “sit-in” protest.
More than 100 employees re-emerged from the mine on Wednesday morning. One worker, who did not want to be named for fear of intimidation by rival union members, told the BBC: “I ran away… it was the only way to save my life. We had to run away.”
The 32-year-old said some hostage-takers had physically assaulted the trapped miners.
“I kept calm but I feared for my life… on the first day we had food and on the second day we shared what was left.
“We eventually ran out of tea, sugar and coffee and survived on water,” said the man, who had worked at Gold One for more than 10 years.
Another miner said: “I forced my way out because I was worried for my health.”
He told the BBC he had some empathy for Amcu, which has been fighting for legal recognition at the mine for around five months. NUM currently has a “closed shop” agreement with Gold One, which means it is the only union the mine officially recognises.
“Although I agree with the fight for another union to be allowed to organise at the mine… I can’t say I support the method they have taken,” the miner said.
Workers’ families were gathered outside the mine on Wednesday, waiting for their loved ones to emerge.
One woman told the BBC she had been camped out since Monday morning, after her husband failed to return from his shift the night before.
“I am hurting. I do not know when my husband will return. He is not well… he has tuberculosis.
“My husband is the breadwinner. I’m even afraid of going back home as I won’t be able to answer my children’s questions,” she said.
Police spokesperson Brenda Mudiri said officers were interviewing miners as they left the mine.
“Those we interviewed have told us they were held against their will. They told us about 15 hostage-takers. We are unable to say which union these hostage-takers belong to,” she said.
Management at the mine echoed the police and NUM’s assessments that the miners had been held hostage.
Amcu has accused Gold One bosses of colluding with NUM, an allegation the mine denies.
NUM was founded in 1982 by former labour unionist Cyril Ramaphosa, who is currently South Africa’s president. It remains the nation’s biggest mining union.
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