Johannesburg - An uneasy calm returned to Lonmin [JSE:LON] troubled Marikana mine in the North West late on Thursday after a shooting that left at least 18 people dead or wounded.
Paramedics were attending to those who were hit during a shoot-out between striking miners and the police.
Policemen involved in the shooting were returning to their bases as two helicopters circled the area.
The area around a hill where the strikers gathered before the shooting was cordoned off with barbed wire.
Chanting could be heard from an informal settlement near the mine.
It was not clear if the group, who were singing liberation songs, were armed, but police were keeping watch.
A Sapa reporter on the scene counted 18 people lying on the ground.
Ten people, including two security guards and two police officers, had already been killed in violent protests at the mine in the past week.
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.
Who shot first?
The reporter said gunshots could be heard from the police, which lasted for three minutes.
Police on the scene claimed workers shot at them first before they opened fire, but it was not immediately clear who fired the first shots.
Health officials were reviewing information related to casualties from the incident.
Provincial health spokesperson Tebogo Lekgethwane said by early evening he was reviewing a report on the casualties and would comment later.
Netcare 911 spokesperson Jeffrey Wicks confirmed that their paramedics were at the scene of the shooting.
However, he declined to comment further, citing patient confidentiality as well as an agreement with the SA Police Service.
"It also runs in conjunction with our agreement with the SA Police Service that we do not comment on acts of crime," Wicks said.
Police were also not immediately available to comment on the number of dead and wounded.
National police commissioner Riah Phiyega was on her way to the scene of the incident.
The National Union of Mineworkers, linked to to the violence through a reported rivalry with another union, said the shooting was regrettable.
"We are saddened and regret this further loss of life which has just happened, bringing roughly the total number of deaths to 30," said general secretary Frans Baleni.
"It is extremely regrettable. We hope a full investigation will be done and hope the perpetrators will be brought to book."
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