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South Africa's president announces inquiry into mining massacre

An inquiry has been launched to find out why police killed 34 miners. Photo: REUTERS/Siphiwe Sibeko

South Africa's President Jacob Zuma has announced he will hold an inquiry into the shooting of striking miners at Lonmin's Marikana mine.

Yesterday 34 strikers miners were killed and 78 were wounded by South African police during angry protests.

The shooting is the bloodiest security operation since the end of apartheid, and brought up uncomfortable memories of Sharpeville, the 1960's township massacre that killed 69 people. President Zuma visited the mine this afternoon.

The head of the South African police defended the killing of 34 striking miners, saying police "had to employ force to protect themselves" from the workers protesting outside the Lonmin platinum mine in Marikana.

Newspaper headlines screamed "Bloodbath", "Killing Field" and "Mine Slaughter", with graphic photographs of heavily armed white and black police officers walking casually past the bloodied corpses of black men lying crumpled in the dust.

Women carry placards as they chant slogans to protest against the killings. Credit: Reuters/ Siphwe Sibeko

This morning hundreds of women arrived at the site of the mine, anxious for news of their husbands. The images have rekindled uncomfortable memories of South Africa's violent and racist past. Neil Connery reports.

Police chief Riah Phiyega confirmed that of the 3,000 miners striking, a total of 34 were killed, "more than" 78 are injured and 259 were arrested and are in custody. She said officers had acted in self-defence against charging, armed assailants.

She also said two policemen had been hacked to death by a mob outside the mine on Tuesday.

In a front page editorial, the Sowetan newspaper questioned what had changed since 1994, when Nelson Mandela overturned three centuries of white domination to become South Africa's first black president.

A protester licks his spear outside a South African mine in Marikana, north west South Africa

Prior to Thursday, 10 people had died in nearly a week of conflict between rival unions at what is Lonmin's flagship plant.

The London-headquartered company has been forced to shut down all its South African platinum operations, which account for 12% of global output.

South Africa is home to 80% of the world's known reserves of platinum. Rising power and labour costs and a steep decline this year in the price have left many mines struggling to stay afloat.

Although the striking Marikana miners were demanding huge pay hikes, some of the roots of the trouble lie in a challenge by the a new union - Association of Mineworkers and Construction Union (AMCU) which has been heavily recruiting across the sector - to the 25-year dominance of the National Union of Mineworkers (NUM), a close ANC ally.

Spokesman for the AMCU said they were shocked the massacre could happen in 2012, in a democratic country.

The chief financial officer of Lonmin, the London based company that owns the Marikana platinum mine where 34 striking workers were shot by South African police, said the shooting was "tragic."

Simon Scott explained that striking workers had been given until today to return to work or lose their jobs, but that this deadline had now been extended until Monday.

World platinum prices spiked nearly 3 percent today as the full extent of the violence became clear, and rose again today to a 5-week high above $1,450 an ounce.

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