By Ed Stoddard
JOHANNESBURG (Reuters) - A protest at one of Harmony Gold's South African mines ended on Friday with the return to the surface of 1,700 workers who had stayed underground to complain about the suspension of colleagues.
"The mine will be closed for the festive season and labor related discussions will resume in January 2013," the company said in a statement.
Company spokeswoman Henrika Basterfield said those talks would include the fate of almost 600 workers whose suspension for their part in an illegal strike last week triggered the protest.
The suspensions also sparked violence at the mine on Thursday when at least 5 miners were injured by police firing rubber bullets to disperse a protest that became rowdy.
The unrest at Harmony's Kusasalethu mine 65 km (40 miles) west of Johannesburg is the latest labor flare-up in South Africa's mining sector, which has been battered this year by a wave of often violent wildcat strikes.
The protesting workers had refused to return to the surface after going underground for a shift on Thursday. But at 2,000 meters (6,300 feet) down, they were unlikely to hold out for long given the hot and uncomfortable conditions at such depths.
Talks to end the impasse had involved representatives from the Association of Mineworkers and Construction Union (AMCU).
AMCU's turf war for members with the dominant National Union of Mineworkers has been at the root of much of the conflict this year which has seen over 50 people killed, damaging the country's reputation among foreign investors.
(Reporting by Ed Stoddard; Editing by Mark Potter)