South African police were forced to open fire to protect themselves from charging armed protesters at the Marikana mine, and 34 of the protesters were killed, Police Commissioner Riah Phiyega said on Friday.
She told a news conference in Rustenburg that 78 people were injured and 259 arrested in Thursday’s violence.
Weapons taken off the dead protesters included firearms stolen from the two police officers who were murdered earlier in the week.
“This is no time for blaming, this is no time for finger-pointing. It is a time for us to mourn...
“The police members had to employ force to protect themselves from the charging group,” Phiyega said.
As the police deployed the barbed wire, a group of protesters tried to outflank them.
"They were met by members of the police who tried to reposte the advance with a water cannon, teargas as well as stun grenades," Phiyega said.
"The attempt was unsuccessful and the police members had to employ force to protect themselves from the charging group."
The police were closing in on the group of protesters when "the militant group stormed towards the police, firing shots and wielding dangerous weapons", said Phiyega.
"Police retreated systematically and were forced to utilise maximum force."
The leaders of the Marikana protesters had tried to no avail to get a peaceful solution throughout the week, she said further.
The video showed police officials confronting the group, asking for weapons. The men told the police the weapons would be handed over at the mountain, and the police followed them there. At the hilltop, the incident turned violent and the two police officers were killed.
Journalists were also showed aerial photographs of the naked men doing a ritual with a sangoma.
The group was described as “pretty militant”.
Phiyega said: "By midday [Thursday] we had received information from various sources that the protesters would not end the strike peacefully and they would not leave their gathering point or disarm.
"The options were weighed and the decision taken that the SAPS needed to protect their members adjacent to the protesters."
Asked who gave the police the order to shoot, she replied: "As commissioner, I gave police the responsibility to execute the task they needed to do".
“The investigation will seek to establish if the police action was proportional to the threat posed by the miners,” spokesman Moses Dlamini said in a statement. “It is still [too] early in the investigation to establish the real facts around this tragedy,” he said.
Investigators were working with the criminal record centre and ballistics experts, and would focus on collecting all the relevant evidence to assist in the investigation.
Another 10 people — including two police officers, two security guards and three NUM shop stewards — were killed in separate incidents since the start of an illegal strike last Friday.
The strike was believed to be linked to rivalry between the NUM and Amcu over recognition agreements at the mine. Workers also wanted higher wages. They claimed to be earning R4,000 a month, with those living outside the hostel earning an extra R1,000. Reported demands have included pay of R12,500 a month.
The workers had based themselves on a hilltop near the mine.
Many of them were armed. They were shot when police tried to disperse the group.
Dlamini said IPID executive director Francois Beukman and a team from its national office would be briefed by an investigation team deployed at Marikana. He would then visit the scene.
Investigators from the IPID’s offices in North West and Gauteng had been “working around the clock” since the shooting, he said.
Meanwhile, more than 50 police vehicles and at least 60 policemen were visible at the mine on Friday, ahead of a police briefing on the shootings. Two helicopters were intermittently circling the area.
Barbed wire added an extra layer of protection at the mine, which has been shut down for all except essential services.