South African police opened fire on a large group of striking miners on Thursday, leaving an unknown number dead and wounded.
The Associated Press reports that police shot at striking workers with live ammunition at the Lonmin PLC platinum mine near Rustenberg, about 65 miles (100 km) northwest of Johannesburg. It is not known how many people were killed or injured; many motionless bodies were seen lying on the ground in pools of blood after the police opened fire.
The violent action comes a day after at least 10 people were killed in clashes between rival union members that shut down operations at the mine run by the London-based company. Lonmin is the world's third-largest platinum producer.
The strike began last Friday when hundreds of rock drill operators stopped working, demanding that their wages increase from 4,000 rand ($486) to 12,500 rand ($1,520) per month. Over the weekend, members of the powerful National Union of Mineworkers (NUM) and the newer Association of Mineworkers and Construction Union (AMCU) began fighting. Miners armed with sticks, machetes and metal bars attacked each other, prompting a deployment of heavily-armed riot police.
Police urged the strikers to lay down their weapons and go home. Some complied, but others carrying what the AP reported were "weapons of war" began war chants and marched towards a nearby township. Police used water cannons at first, then stun grenades and tear gas before turning to deadly force. TV footage shows stunned miners looking on in horror as police shot at their comrades with automatic rifles and pistols, felling several of them.
Bernard O. Mokwena, an executive vice president at Lonmin, downplayed the killing as "only a police action." The company said that workers who don't return to the mines would be fired.
"The striking (workers) remain armed and away from work," the company said in a statement. "This is illegal."
But strikers vowed to carry on with their protest.
"We are not going anywhere," strike leader Alfred Makhaya told AFP. "No one is going back underground until our wage demands are met."
"We can't afford a decent life," said miner Thuso Masakeng. "We live like animals because of poor salaries we are getting."
"We are being exploited. Both the government and the unions have failed to come to our rescue. Companies make a lot of money at our expense and we are getting paid almost nothing."
The majority of the striking miners live in abysmal, unsanitary conditions near the mine. There is no running water there.
South Africa produces 87 percent of the world's platinum.