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South Africa mourns victims of platinum mine shootings

Mourners have gathered at memorial services across South Africa to remember the dozens shot dead in a labor dispute at a platinum mine. President Jacob Zuma has promised to appoint an inquiry commission this week.

South Africans sang Christian hymns in the Zulu and Xhosa languages at a memorial service near the Lonmin platinum mine in Marikana on Thursday, the site of the bloodiest police action since the end of apartheid some two decades ago.

The service at the Lonmin mine was for the 44 people killed in violence related to a turf war between two rival unions as well as platinum miners' campaign for higher wages.

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South Africa mourns mine victims

Police shot dead 34 miners at the Lonmin mine in Marikana last Thursday, after some 3,000 striking workers refused to disperse. Another 10 people had been hacked and beaten to death after the strike started on August 10.

The Lonmin and Implats platinum mines were closed all of Thursday for the day of mourning. Services are also expected in the cities of Johannesburg, Capetown, and Mthatha. Around 20 of the miners who died in the police action at Marikana came from Mthatha, a city in the rural Eastern Cape province.

The Association of Mineworkers and Construction Union (AMCU), which had led the strike, held its own service early on Thursday at the Implata mine.

Religious leaders leading the memorial service at Lonmin's Marikana mine

Mourning instead of mining as the nation asked why miners were shot

The upstart AMCU and the long-established National Union of Mineworkers (NUM) have been locked in a turf war over membership numbers and political influence.

The NUM is a close ally of President Jacob Zuma's African National Congress (ANC) party.

Zuma promises speedy inquiry

Police kept their distance from the memorial services to avoid renewed clashes as tensions continue to run high.

"We don't want to see the police today, they must stay far away," Nkosinathi, a Lonmin miner who declined to give his full name, told the AFP news agency. "They bring back very ugly, very painful memories."

South Africa's police minister, Nathi Mthethwa, defended the actions of the police during a parliamentary debate on Tuesday, saying they "had done all in their power to avert such a situation."

Police minister Mthethwa talks with Zuma

Seeking answers Police Minister Mthethwa (left) with Zuma

President Zuma visited Marikana on Wednesday but did not attend Thursday's memorial services, opting instead to set up an inquiry into the shootings.

"The president has undertaken that before the end of the week the terms of reference and composition of the commission of inquiry will be completed," presidential spokesman Mac Maharaj said. "He has set aside time to do that today."

South Africa is home to around 80 percent of the world's known platinum reserves. Platinum is used in jewelry and is also a key metal for the manufacture of catalytic converters in car exhausts. The EU made them mandatory for new cars sold within the block in the early 1990s.

Stocks for the British-listed Lonmin company took a nose dive during the strike and ensuing violence, but managed to make some gains on Tuesday and Wednesday.

slk/ipj (AFP, dpa, Reuters)

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