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South African president visits mine after police shooting

President Jacob Zuma has addressed miners at the Marikana platinum site, less than a week after 34 striking miners were shot dead by police. The president said it would "never be our policy to harm those we represent."

South Africa's president met with miners from the Lonmin site at Marikana Wednesday, after last week's strike culminated with police shooting 34 striking miners dead. A further 78 people were injured. Police officials said they were acting in self-defense against armed individuals who had ignored orders to disperse.

Zuma spoke to roughly 2,000 assembled staff from the troubled mine, saying in both the Xhosa and Zulu languages that no labor dispute should result in deaths.

"I have taken a decision to set up a commission to investigate this so that we can get to the truth," Zuma told the crowd. "I could only meet police leadership on the day, I could not come here as it was late but I managed to go to hospital where some of the injured workers told me what happened."

Ten people had been killed at the mine site a few days before the August 16 police incident.

A paramedic receives help from a policewomen as he tends to the injured after protesting miners were shot outside a South African mine

Police said they opened fire in self-defense

The shootings caused uproar in South Africa and around the world, exacerbated by television footage showing the police's heavy-handed approach once they decided to open fire.

"Those saying our government gave orders to kill are misinformed because it will never be our policy to harm those we represent," Zuma said. "That will never happen."

A modest wage promise

A combination of a wage dispute and a turf war between rival trade unions led to last week's violence. Employees at the mine, who say they earn 4000 rand ($486, 400 euros) per month, have asked for their pay to be increased to 12,500 rand. The higher figure would equate to the value of less than an ounce of platinum at current prices.

"I hear that you are saying you won't leave here until you get the money you want. I will also send a message to the employer that you demand 12,500 rand," Zuma said. "I haven't met the employer so I don't know his view on this."

An official funeral service for the dead miners will be held on Thursday at the site of the massacre.

The precious metal platinum is currently trading at over $1500, having jumped $100 in the past few days. Platinum is used in jewelry and is also a key component for the car industry, as it is needed to produce catalytic converters - an emissions-limiting piece of exhaust technology that the EU made mandatory for new cars sold within the block in the early 1990s.

Shares in the British-listed Lonmin company, whose operational headquarters are in South Africa, showed some signs of resurgence in afternoon trading Wednesday. They had already shed more than half their value since September 2011, before taking a renewed plunge amid the unrest at its largest single mining site.

At their lowest ebb during the labor dispute, Lonmin shares reached their lowest level since late 2009. The company has issued several deadlines for miners to pick up their tools and go back to work, subsequently extending them when the majority of workers refused.

msh/kms (AFP, Reuters)