File image: Reuters

The violence that resulted in the shooting of a number of people on Thursday at Lonmin's mine in Marikana in the North West was being orchestrated, Cosatu said.

“Broadly we believe there is an orchestration, a planned violence, because the violence that people are seeing today has been going on since January,” said general secretary Zwelinzima Vavi.

“Scores of people have been killed and systematically targeted. Someone is behind it. We can't put our finger on it, but someone is orchestrating that violence.”

A shoot-out between police and strikers at the mine left at least 18 people dead or wounded on Thursday.

Vavi said Cosatu was extremely concerned about the loss of so many lives.

The trade union federation hoped the matter would be resolved through the intervention of the leadership of the National Union of Mineworkers (NUM) and the Association of Mineworkers and Construction Union (Amcu).

“We are aware NUM has been trying to do to convince workers to stop violence and intimidation,” he said.

The shooting erupted when police sought to disperse armed, striking workers who had gathered on a hill, in the area that had already seen 10 deaths in violent protests the past week.

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

The police tried to intercept them using water cannons, tear gas and stun grenades.

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

A Sapa reporter on the scene said gunshots could be heard from the police, which lasted for three minutes.

Police on the scene said workers shot at them first before they opened fire.

An uneasy calm returned to the Marikana mine area on Thursday evening as paramedics attended to those who were hit.

Those who already died in violent protests at the mine included two security guards and two police officers. - Sapa