North West - The president of Amcu wanted to go back and die with his dead colleagues when he saw them fall during police fire at Lonmin's Marikana mine, he said on Friday.

"I told them to leave...I pleaded, I pleaded," Association of Mineworkers and Construction Union (Amcu) president Joseph Mathunjwa told reporters in Johannesburg.

Tears rolled down his cheeks as he recounted the events that led  to the deaths of over 30 protesters in a clash with police on a hill near the mine on Thursday.

He said workers had earlier refused to leave, vowing to stay on the hill even if they were killed.

"We got in our cars and left... After a few minutes the phone rang (about the shooting).

"I wanted to turn back and go and die with my comrades," said Mathunjwa.

Using a handkerchief to wipe his eyes, he said Amcu leaders went  to the hilltop, where the protesters had gathered, before the shooting without a police or security escort, or any supervision.

"I pleaded with them: 'The writing is on the wall, they are going to kill you'," he said.

Police opened fire on the protesters, many of whom were armed, on Thursday afternoon while trying to disperse them.

The police ministry said 34 people were believed to have been killed. The National Union of Mineworkers said 36 people had died.

Another 10 people - including two police officers, two security  guards and three NUM shop stewards - have been killed in separate incidents since the start of an illegal strike last Friday.

Mathunjwa said he pleaded with the workers twice to leave the hilltop, near the mine where workers had gathered, but they refused.

"They wanted R12,500 (a month)," he said.

He said he and Lonmin management had tried to discuss a wage increase, but that the mine's management had refused to meet the workers.

Mathunjwa said President Jacob Zuma should order a probe into the shooting.

“It is with great regret... and shock... that this resulted in a loss of lives,” he said.

He said the killings could have been avoided and called on the nation to mourn those who died.

Amcu would assist with funeral arrangements where it could.

The union believed the week-long labour protest should have been treated with sensitivity.

Mathunjwa began the news briefing in Johannesburg by asking that a moment's silence be observed.

Amcu and the National Union of Mineworkers are believed to be in a wrangle over union recognition at the platinum mine. - Sapa