Families of South Africa mine victims break down

JOHANNESBURG -- Graphic video footage of South African police shooting dead 34 protesting mine strikers in August left the victims' widows weeping inconsolably when it was shown to an official inquest Tuesday.

The Marikana Commission _ which is investigating violence at Lonmin's platinum mines on Aug. 16 as well as related incidents in which up to 46 people were killed_ was disrupted by the emotional response of grieving family members to the video footage which shows some of the worst state violence since the end of apartheid since 1994.

Some family members cried and others covered their faces as the video showed strikers being shot down in a hail of bullets. One woman fainted and was carried out of the hall.

Ian Farlam, a retired judge who is heading the commission, quickly apologized for showing the footage without warning family members.

Earlier Tuesday a lawyer for more than 200 miners charged that South African police and mine owners plotted to kill striking mineworkers.

Lawyer Dali Mpofu told the commission that the killing of mineworkers "was premeditated murder of defenseless people."

Among other evidence, Mpofu presented an email sent on Aug. 15 by South African businessman Cyril Ramaphosa to Lonmin company executives in which he wrote of "dastardly criminal acts" by striking miners and called for "concomitant action." Ramaphosa is an influential member of South Africa's ruling party, the African National Congress. He is sometimes touted as a future leader of the country.

South African police insist they acted in self-defense when they shot and killed the protesting strikers and wounded more than 70.

Ishmael Semenya, a lawyer for the police, told the commission on Monday that the police had not been adequately prepared for confrontations with striking miners armed with crude weapons. Semenya said the striking miners wanted a "bloodbath."

Mpofu said that the victims' legal team "refute any suggestions of self-defense" on the part of the police.

The striking Marikana miners later got a hefty pay raise of up to 22 percent. Their wage gains inspired a wave of wild-cat strike action across South Africa. Some of the strikes at gold and platinum mines remain unresolved, according to analysts.