Policemen keep watch over striking miners after they were shot outside a South African mine in Rustenburg, 100 km (62 miles) northwest of Johannesburg, August 16, 2012. South African police opened fire against thousands of striking miners armed with machetes and sticks at Lonmin's Marikana platinum mine, leaving several bloodied corpses lying on the ground.

Rustenburg - Conflicting versions abounded on Friday of exactly what happened before 34 people were killed in a clash between police and striking miners in North West.

A shoot-out erupted on Thursday when police sought to disperse armed workers who had gathered on a hill near Lonmin's platinum mine in Marikana.

By that time, the area had already seen 10 deaths in violent protests the past week.

After a call on the miners to disarm themselves, the group - singing and hitting their spears against pangas - starting moving down the hill to a nearby informal settlement.

Police tried to intercept them using water cannons, teargas, and stun grenades.

The workers started running in different directions, some heading for the open veld and others toward an informal settlement.

The Times newspaper reported that police had used rubber bullets and teargas on the advancing miners and only resorted to live ammunition when a striking worker pulled out a shotgun and fired.

The Sowetan reported that striking miners “appeared” to have fired on police, but described the group as “peacefully gathering” who were advanced upon by the police.

Both the Times and Sowetan reported that one of the wounded miners shouted defiantly at the police “Kill us to please the abelungu (whites)”.

Beeld newspaper described the striking miners as “oproeriges” (rioters).

The paper reported they were armed with pangas and assegais as they stormed the police line.

Police were reported as being nervous because they believed the striking miners had two firearms that had been taken from two police officers killed earlier in the strike.

The Star newspaper journalist Poloko Tau gave a first-person account of the shooting.

He said police had made a “well-planned attack that turned a protest into a kill zone.”

The day had begun when the head of the North West police, Lt-Gen Zukiswa Mbombo, promised to end the strike, he wrote.

“No-one, not the unions, the protesters on the hill, or the journalists at the scene expected the mayhem that followed,” Tau wrote.

According to him, the shooting began when a group of protesters moved down the hill towards an informal settlement.

Police began advancing on the group who then scattered with the authorities giving chase.

Tau said police maintained they were fired on first, but he did not mention seeing this first-hand. - Sapa