"Kill us too, please, abelungu [whites]."
These were the words of a miner wounded when the police opened fire on thousands of strikers at Lonmin's platinum mine in Marikana, outside Rustenburg, as he hurled insults at the police - and urged them to finish him off.
The extremely tense week-long stand-off between police and striking workers at the mine in North West ended in just over two minutes of bloodshed when the police opened fire with semi-automatic assault rifles and pistols just before 3pm yesterday.
After the police operation, which lasted for about 15 minutes, at least 18 striking workers lay dead or wounded, covered in blood and dust, in the open veld near the notorious Marikana Hill.
Ten other people, including two policemen, have been killed in violence at the mine since the weekend.
President Jacob Zuma last night expressed sadness and alarm at the bloodshed, which started shortly after police advanced on the hill to disarm the strikers.
After negotiations between the Association of Mineworkers and Construction Union and about 3000 rock-drill operators deadlocked, the police gave the gathering 10 minutes to disperse. The union wanted the strikers to give up their arms and return to work.
The crowd instead formed a line and, crouching, struck their pangas and sharpened iron rods together to create a war beat. The line slowly advanced towards the police, crossing the barrier line the police had set up. The police opened fire when the strikers attacked an armoured Inyala.
They first used stun grenades and rubber bullets - but when a striker was seen pulling out a shotgun and firing at the police, the police switched to live ammunition.
After the hail of bullets - which was caught by television camera crews - only dust and gunsmoke hung in the air.
Several bodies lay on the ground, some piled on top of others. Some of the bodies lay face down with gaping head wounds; others were bleeding from the stomach. One man had half his head blown away.
National police spokesman Captain Dennis Adriao, who was on the scene yesterday, could not be reached last night.
Earlier yesterday, he said detectives were investigating the 10 killings over the past week, including those of two policemen, two security guards and striking miners.
The workers have been on an illegal strike since Friday, demanding that their salaries be increased from R4000 to R12500 a month.
Lonmin, the mine's owner, is the world's third-largest producer of platinum products.
On Sunday, two security guards were found burned to death in their patrol car. Another man was found stabbed to death that night. A fourth body was found with five bullet wounds on Monday morning.
Two policemen dispatched to the area were shot dead on Monday afternoon.
The initial outbreak of violence has been blamed on animosity between the National Union of Mineworkers and the Association of Mineworkers and Construction Union.
It is understood that national police commissioner Riah Phiyega was on her way to the mine late last night.
Some of the striking workers claimed yesterday that they were attacked last Friday by leaders of the NUM, whom they accused of collaborating with their enemy - Lonmin.
"We were attacked when we were on our way to a meeting [on Friday]. Those NUM leaders killed us because they are protecting the employer," said a worker who identified himself as Tau Tau.
"They [NUM leaders and Lonmin] have called the police to come and kill us. We are not afraid because we work underground and our lives are forever at risk," said worker Andries Tsinyao. An unidentified worker, who addressed his fellow strikers, dared the police to attack and "we will see who would be left on the ground".
Frans Baleni, general secretary of the National Union of Mineworkers, said that though the union supported the police's use of force, it had not expected the loss of lives. "We regret the further loss of lives and it is unfortunate that it has led to this.
"We call on the police to launch a full investigation to bring the perpetrators who were behind this gathering to book."
Joseph Mathunjwa, president of the Association for Mineworkers and Construction Union, blamed Lonmin's management for its "reluctance" to meet the workers and hear their demands. "The management committed that they would negotiate with the workers on condition that they return to work, but they appeared to back-track yesterday."
In a statement last night, Lonmin chairman Roger Phillimore said: "We are treating the developments around police operations this afternoon with the utmost seriousness. It goes without saying that we deeply regret the further loss of life in what is clearly a public order rather than labour relations-associated matter."
Baleni claimed at a press conference in Johannesburg that a hit-list of names of NUM leaders, being circulated at Marikana, had been intercepted. He said the police had been told of the hit-list and the union had asked that the individuals it believed to be behind the violent illegal strikes be charged.
"[On] the list are names of branch leaders and shop stewards; one of the people killed was a shop steward. "We are not aware of any national leadership in that list," Baleni said.
''The shop stewards had to be removed, most of them, to be in a safe area, and unfortunately one didn't make it while the other one escaped with his life."
Zuma expressed his sadness at the ''tragic loss of lives of so many people''.
He said: ''We call upon the labour movement and business to work with the government to arrest the situation before it deteriorates any further. I have instructed law enforcement agencies to do everything possible to bring the situation under control and to bring the perpetrators of violence to book.''
Cosatu general secretary Zwelinzima Vavi said the violence that resulted in yesterday's shooting was being orchestrated. ''Broadly we believe there is an orchestration, a planned violence, because the violence that people are seeing today has been going on since January,'' he said. - Additional reporting by Sapa