MARIKANA (AFP) - South African investigators Saturday probed the police killing of 34 striking platinum miners, as the nation sought answers following the deadliest protest since apartheid.

Armoured cars and police trucks patrolled the area around London-listed Lonmin’s Marikana platinum mine while a helicopter circled above the spot where officers opened fire on hundreds of workers on Thursday.

More than 1,000 miners were gathered nearby, still traumatised by the incident, while others trickled into the mine’s hospital hoping to find out if missing loved ones were dead, wounded or in jail.

The crackdown Thursday left 34 dead, 78 wounded and 259 detained, according to police.

The toll came on top of 10 dead in attacks blamed on attributed to rivalry between unions during the weeklong strike to back demands for a wage rise.

A caravan outside the hospital was set up to provide information on the dead and wounded. Hospital security kept journalists from entering, appealing for privacy for the families.

Meanwhile, two separate investigations were getting underway in addition to one launched by the police, whose forensics experts combed through the scene for a third day.

The Independent Police Investigative Directorate has opened what is likely to be a lengthy probe into the deaths at the mine, in addition to a national commission of inquiry announced by President Jacob Zuma.

“There’s various investigations, there’s a lot of experts involved, it will take some time,” police spokesman Dennis Adriao told AFP.

“The national commissioner did mention that we will give our full cooperation with any of the investigations into the very, very sad, tragic event.”

The directorate said in a statement that its probe would determine whether police gave a “proportional” response by firing live rounds into a crowd of workers armed mainly with machetes, spears and clubs.

No violence has been reported since Thursday’s crackdown was captured on camera and broadcast to the nation.

Top labour leaders urged workers to remain calm, hoping to defuse the deadly rivalry between two miners unions.

“Workers must calm down and allow leaders to address their issues,” Sidumo Dlamini, president of the powerful Cosatu trade federation, said on national radio.

“It doesn’t matter now which union you belong to, there is a crisis, let’s normalise and create a platform where people will be free to express themselves, people will be free to say their demands under a normal situation.”

The violence stems from a conflict between the powerful National Union of Mineworkers and the upstart Association of Mineworkers and Construction Union (AMCU).

NUM has close links to the ruling African National Congress, having produced some of the party’s top leaders, including Deputy President Kgalema Motlanthe and ANC secretary general Gwede Mantashe.

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But this has also created a sentiment that the union has become too comfortable in the corridors of power among South Africa’s new black elite.

“The NUM is seen as compromised toward the government, and specifically toward President Zuma, and they are not seen any more as an effective union at the local level,” said Dirk Kotze, a political analyst at the University of South Africa.

AMCU has jumped in to attract members by calling for a tripling of salaries for rock drill operators, from the current 4,000 rand ($486, 400 euros) a month.

Both AMCU and NUM have denounced the violence and denied taking part.

While the investigators try to find out who fired first on Thursday, analysts said there is plenty of blame to share.

“Tragically you’ve had a failure of leadership all around, in the unions, in government and, none is prepared to say this, but also on the part of mine management. All of them are implicated,” said political analyst Ebrahim Fakir.

“The problem is this thing is going to erupt in three years time again because the underlying inequalities, wage differentials, working conditions, health and safety on the mines are still being unaddressed and those are the crux of the issues.”

Lonmin, the world’s number three platinum producer, said it would help identify and bury the 34 dead and pay for the education of their children from primary school to university.

But it noted the strike was illegal and called on employees to get back to work, saying, “A stable mining sector is vital to the economic future of this country.”