File image: Reuters

About 1700 workers refused to leave Harmony Gold's Kusasalethu mine and return to the surface on Friday morning, the company said in a statement.

The mineworkers are part of the day shift and are being led by the Association of Mineworkers and Construction Union (Amcu), Harmony said.

The workers demands include the return to work of 578 fellow employees, including contractors, who were suspended on Wednesday.

“Safety and health is our first priority and we will do our utmost to ensure the mineworkers return to surface safely,” Harmony CEO Tom Smith said in the statement.

Talks with the workers and Amcu are underway.

Ten mineworkers were injured on Thursday in a clash with security guards and police at the mine.

Two were injured due to inhaling tear gas and the other eight were injured after being hit by rubber bullets fired by private mine security and police.

The suspended employees and contractors had been suspended after taking part in an unprotected strike last week.

Late last month two workers were killed and a third injured during violence believed to be the result of rivalry between Amcu and the National Union of Mineworkers.

Management, the recognised unions, and Amcu, had been in talks about ending conflict at the mine since workers ended an unprotected strike on October 25. - Sapa