South African police ordered mortuary vehicles to be on standby hours before the shooting of 34 striking workers at the Marikana platinum mine last year, the inquiry probing the bloodbath heard on Monday.

Lieutenant Colonel Duncan Scott, who was tasked with coordinating the plan to disarm and disperse the striking workers, said under examination that senior police officers wanted four vehicles to be stationed at the hill where the mineworkers were protesting.

"Only one vehicle was sent. It arrived there before any shootings took place," said Scott.

He said vans from a government mortuary outside the platinum mining town of Rustenburg were called by top cops because they wanted police to "close down (on) the miners in Marikana."

The revelation is the latest in a string of startling evidence that has emerged from the inquiry.

Last month, the commission was briefly postponed to allow investigators to study new evidence seized from police computer hard drives. The damning documents revealed that the police may have falsified and concealed evidence when they earlier gave an account of the killings.

On August 16, 2012, police fired at striking miners at platinum giant Lonmin's mine in Marikana, killing 34 and leaving at least 270 injured during a strike over wages.

Police have maintained that they were acting in self-defence against armed miners, in a shooting described as the worst violence to hit South Africa since the end of apartheid in 1994.

The commission has also heard that police hunted down and finished off wounded mineworkers, and that many of them were shot from behind.

In a bizarre twist, the surviving miners were arrested a day after the shooting for the killing of their colleagues, but the charges were later withdrawn.

On Monday, a court ordered the government to pay the legal fees of the lawyers representing the survivors after they pulled out of the commission hearing due to lack of funding.

 

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