Zuma: S Africa 'Dismayed' By Mine Shooting

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South Africa's president has announced an official inquiry into the shooting dead of 34 mine workers by police officers.

Having cut short an official trip to Mozambique to visit the scene of the killings at the Marikana mine, President Jacob Zuma told a news conference he was "saddened and dismayed" by what happened on Thursday.

He said the whole country was mourning and promised a full investigation into the incident, for which the mine workers and police have blamed each other.

Mr Zuma said: "We have to uncover the truth about what happened here. In this regard, I've decided to institute a commission of inquiry.

"The inquiry will enable us to get to the real cause of the incident and to derive the necessary lessons too. This is a shocking thing."

Tweeting from the news conference, Sky's special correspondent, Alex Crawford, said: "Zuma offers 'sincere condolences to those who've lost loved ones.... Our thoughts are also with the police', he says"

Another tweet said: "Zuma; This is not an occasion for finger pointing and recriminations....Today challenges us to restore calm."

The president's comments came after South Africa's police chief said the officers who killed the striking miners were acting in self defence.

Police Commissioner Riah Phiyega told a news conference officers at the Lonmin PLC platinum mine near Rustenburg had to use "maximum force to defend themselves" when they were charged by armed protesters.

She (SNP: ^SHEY - news) said 78 people were wounded in the violence and 259 arrested on charges ranging from public disorder to murder.

The trouble began when police were laying out barbed wire barricades to separate the 3,000 striking drill operators into "smaller groups more manageable for police to disarm", Ms Phiyega added.

Police opened fire with automatic weapons when protesters armed with machetes and sticks ignored orders to disperse. Officers used water cannons, tear gas and stun grenades to try to quell the violence.

Ms Phiyega said six firearms were recovered, including the gun taken from a police officer killed on Monday.

The National Union of Mineworkers claims 36 people were killed and 86 injured.

South Africa Police spokesman Captain Dennis Adriao also told Sky News that officers' lives were in danger.

"The fact of the matter is it was a situation where had we not acted, it would have been a large amount of police officers that would have been killed," he said.

"At the beginning of the week two of our police officers were hacked and stabbed to death.

"The whole of the matter is that we in the police service are never one to act and take somebody's life unless our lives would be in danger."

One mine worker, who was looking for his missing uncle, told Crawford that police shot at the miners first.

"Yesterday was grey, the police was starting to shoot us. Yesterday we were running away," he said of the protest.

He said they will take revenge with magic because they do not have guns.

"We are going to use magic now, witchcraft, because we don't have the guns," he said. "We are going to send peace to these guys."

Crawford described it as the worst incident since the end of white minority rule in 1994.

She said there was a "very tense" atmosphere outside the mine, with large groups of people scattered over the scrubland and riot police watching on.

"They are angry, very, very angry. They feel this was all down to the police and they used unnecessary force," she added. "They feel let down by the government and let down by the police."

At least another 10 people - including two police officers - have died during the violence at the mine, which began a week ago.

Lonmin (Berlin: LRH.BE - news) chairman Roger Phillimore said the deaths were deeply regretted - but emphasised the mine considers it "clearly a public order rather than a labour relations-associated matter".

The company's chief financial officer, Simon Scott, also released a statement.

It said: "On behalf of the whole company I would like to express our sincere condolences to the families and friends of all those employees who have lost their lives, not only in the events of Thursday but also in the days leading up to it, and of course to the families and colleagues of the two South African Police Service officers who died trying to protect others."

The dispute is about wages, but the violence has been fuelled by a power struggle between the dominant National Union of Mineworkers and the new Association of Mineworkers and Construction Union.

The British Foreign Office has also sent condolences to those killed and injured. 

A spokesman said: "We are shocked by the loss of life at the Marikana mine in South Africa and send our condolences to the friends and family of all those who have died or been affected.

"We welcome the commitment of the South African Government to resolving the situation through dialogue."

He added: "We further welcome President Zuma's announcement of a Commission of Inquiry, as well as National Police Commissioner General Riah Phiyega's confirmation that the South African Police Service would co-operate fully with an investigation into these tragic events."