HARMONY Gold’s shutdown of its mines for Christmas has been delayed at Kusasalethu because of an underground sit-in by 1,700 workers demanding the reinstatement of 578 of their colleagues who were suspended earlier this week.

Kusasalethu is one of the mines where the Association of Mineworkers and Construction Union (Amcu) has recruited membership, and it was among those affected by the wildcat strikes that swept through the platinum and gold mines between August and October, costing companies billions of rand in lost revenue.

The 578 workers, including contractors, engaged in an illegal sit-in last Saturday and were suspended on Wednesday, said Henrika Basterfield, investor relations manager at Harmony. The reasons for the sit-in were unknown, she said.

The underground sit-in on Friday by the day shift was to demand the lifting of the suspension, she said. Kusasalethu was supposed to be shut down for the year-end break.

"None of us can leave until this is over," she said. "They are not budging."

Ms Basterfield added: "We’ve sent water down to the protestors to make sure they’re okay. There’s been no violence today."

She also said there had been no reports of intimidation of workers to ensure they remained underground.

"Talks with the employees and Amcu representatives are ongoing in order to resolve the situation," she said.

The protest has not spread to Harmony’s other operations, which are in the Free State.