Pretoria — Police Minister Nathi Mthethwa has sent his heartfelt condolences to the families, relatives and friends of those who lost their lives during the protest at Lonmin mine in Rustenburg on Thursday.
According to media reports, the shoot-out at Lonmin's Marikana mine resulted in more than 30 people losing their lives.
"Our condolences go to the families of the deceased and their relatives. We thought that it would be important to express that because any violence or loss of life is something which is important to all of us in the country," said Mthethwa in a telephonic interview on SABC's Morning Live breakfast show on Friday.
The minister said this had been a "very difficult week" characterised by sporadic violence and murders at the mine.
He said the police started negotiating with the mine workers, who had embarked on an illegal strike for the past three days.
"... The police pleaded with the [striking mine workers] and tried to tell them that it is not legal to carry arms as they were doing. They were actually on the retreat as the [miners] were advancing towards them," said Mthethwa, who further described the violence as a very difficult and complex situation.
He said the police tried other means, including laying out barricades of barbed wire, to keep the miners at bay.
"The police tried other means ... they pleaded with the people to disperse, but the people said they were not going to disperse, that they were prepared for war. While some of the people decided to leave, others decided to charge towards the police..." said Mthethwa.
According to a statement issued by the South African Police Service, police had embarked on extensive and unsuccessful negotiations to disarm and disperse a heavily armed group of illegal gatherers at a hilltop close to Lonmin Mine, near Rustenburg in the North West. However, police members were viciously attacked by the group, using a variety of weapons, including firearms.
"The police, in order to protect their own lives and in self-defence, were forced to engage the group with force. This resulted in several individuals being fatally wounded, and others injured," said the statement.