The scale of brutality might be novel to post-apartheid South Africa, but the deadly story is not altogether new.
Many workers of South Africa’s Marikana mine have marched in protest defying a deadline to return to work.
The bulk of the 3,000 members of the Association of Mineworkers and Construction Union (AMCU) – who led the so-called wildcat strike – have continued their protest.
At least 34 men died when police opened fire on August 16 on striking workers at the Lonmin PLC-operated platinum mine, located in North West province.
Hundreds of striking miners marched on Monday in defiance of the agreement signed by the mine management and the main National Union of Mineworkers (NUM).
Al Jazeera’s Mike Hanna, reporting on Monday from Rustenburg, 100km north of Johannesburg, said the loss of income for the mine companies as a result of the strike, which has severely hampered operations, has been “massive”.
“Lonmin says as well that in total they are losing about a 100m a month in operating profit,” he said.
Frans Baleni, NUM general secretary, told Al Jazeera that a high level of intimidation has stopped many miners from returning to work.
“The workers are still scared. There have been threats that those who have reported for duty would have their homes torched,” he said.
“Some of the workers also feel threatened by their managers. Peace has not really prevailed at this stage, which is the main reason why workers would stay away.”
The workers, who have been on strike for a month, have vowed to stay off the job until they receive wages of 12,500 rand ($1,500) a month, double what they now earn.
Negotiations on the wage demand between the mine management, unions and the arbitration commission were set to take place at noon on Monday.
“If workers don’t come to work, we will still pursue the peace path. That is very, very necessary for us to achieve because this level of intimidation and people fearing for their lives obviously does not help anybody,” Barnard Mokwena, Lonmin’s executive vice-president in charge of human resources, said.
“For now it is a fragile process and we need to nurture it.”
Probe into murders
Separately, Al Jazeera has learned that some of the protesting miners who were shot dead at the Marikana mine last month may have been trying to surrender.
A prominent human rights organisation in South Africa launched an independent investigation into the police shootings on Sunday. The Legal Resource Centre (LRC) said that it had obtained multiple witness testimonies that blame police brutality for the killings of strikers who were calling for pay raises.
Some witnesses have said that police shot protesters who were either trying to escape confrontations with police by hiding behind rocks, or while surrendering to authorities.
The LRC also said it has forensic evidence that suggests a police cover-up of the killings.
Video showed a densely packed crowd of miners, some armed with clubs and machetes, approaching heavily armed police, who claimed self-defence in the shooting.
The incident was the climax of an escalating stand-off between rival unions that had already killed 10 people, including two police officers.
‘Allegations of torture’
Government officials and police officers have repeatedly rejected Al Jazeera’s request to comment on the allegations, saying they would not speculate until a judicial inquiry into the incident was complete.
|Danny Titus, from the South African Human Rights Commission, discusses the Marikana shooting|
Danny Titus, a representative of the South African Human Rights Commission, told Al Jazeera that the organisation was very concerned with allegations of human rights violations.
“We are really concerned about the allegations coming from the miners, really giving us so much detail about what really happened,” he said.
Titus said if the allegations were proven to be true, it would suggest that the workers were shot “out of vengeance”.
“There was not a crowd-control approach [by police],” he said.
“These police already went before parliament to explain themselves, and one of the first kind of defences they put forward was the fact they did not have training in crowd-control very high in their priority, which is very strange.
“And beyond that there are further allegations of torture [of striking miners].”
The ongoing industrial action has pushed down Lonmin’s shares, raised world platinum prices and fuelled fears of labour unrest spreading through the mining sector of Africa’s largest economy.