A lawyer representing miners injured and arrested during a strike in which at least 44 people were killed, most of them by police, says his clients are suing South Africa's deputy president.

Lawyer Andries Nkome said on Friday the 330 miners are suing Deputy President Cyril Ramaphosa for 1 billion rand (about $70 million).

Nkome said Ramaphosa's characterization of the 2012 wage strike as a criminal act rather than a labor dispute contributed to the police shooting the miners.

In a statement Ramaphosa's spokesman said the deputy president instructed his lawyers to defend his action.

In June, a government-appointed commission exonerated Ramaphosa, who was a director and shareholder of the Lonmin platinum mine. In 2012, Ramaphosa sent an email to executives describing violence during the strike as "dastardly criminal acts."