JOHANNESBURG – In a hail of gunfire, a line of South African police shot at a crowd of striking miners, many of whom fell to the ground, lifeless.
The shooting continued and more strikers dropped into the dirt.
That graphic video of 34 strikers being shot dead by police at Lonmin's Marikana platinum mine on Aug. 16 remains so powerful that it upset victims' families watching proceedings Tuesday.
When the footage was shown many grieving widows, wearing black mourning headscarves, erupted in uncontrollable weeping. Others covered their faces in horror. One woman collapsed and was carried out of the hall, disrupting proceedings inside the Rustenburg Civic Center, northwest of Johannesburg.
Ian Farlam, a retired judge who heads the Marikana Commission, quickly apologized for showing the footage without warning family members. He said equally upsetting videos of the shootings, from different angles, would be shown to the commission.
James Nichol, one of the lawyers representing families of the deceased miners, said it was insensitive to show such footage without warning the families present. "What happened was unforgivable and disgraceful," Nichol said.
The reaction to the footage highlighted the emotive power of the Aug. 16 incident, the worst state violence since the end of apartheid in 1994. Some now describe the Marikana shootings as a "massacre" by the police.
Lawyer Dali Mpofu, who represents more than 270 miners injured or arrested during the Marikana incident, told the commission Tuesday that the shooting of mineworkers "was premeditated murder of defenseless people" and that he would seek "justice" elsewhere if the commission in the end failed to indict the police.
Mpofu described the mine violence last August as "collusion between the state and capital." Among other evidence, he 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, an influential member of South Africa's ruling African National Congress party, is sometimes touted as a future leader of the country.
The Marikana Commission's inquiry is expected to last four months and will investigate the deaths of more than 40 people in the violence at Marikana, nearly 94 kilometers (58 miles) northwest of Johannesburg.
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."
But Mpofu said on Tuesday that the victims' legal team "refute any suggestions of self-defense" by the police.
President Jacob Zuma ordered the judicial investigation to determine the causes of the police killings that shocked the nation. Some 46 people, including two police, were killed in mine violence in Marikana in August. The commission will determine the roles played by the police, Lonmin, the National Union of Mineworkers and the Association of Mineworkers and Construction Union. It will also determine whether any of those investigated could have put measures into place to prevent the violence.
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. Companies such as Gold Fields and AngloGold Ashanti have responded to the striking miners by issuing ultimatums threatening them with dismissal if they do not return to work.