At least 30 people have been killed after police opened fire on striking platinum miners at the Marikana mine north west of Johannesburg, one of the bloodiest police operations since apartheid ended in South Africa.

Police were sent to intervene after thousands of miners, seen here armed with clubs and machetes, gathered to protest outside the Lonmin-owned platinum mine.

The reasons why police opened fire on the strikers remains unclear, but eyewitness reports suggest the shooting took place after a group of demonstrators rushed at a line of police officers.

According to a journalist at the scene, officers had first used water cannons, tear gas and stun grenades in an attempt to disperse the crowd.

The shootings are the climax to several days of violent protests. 10 people had already been killed in other clashes in the mining town.

The Mine, owned by the world's third largest platinum producer Lonmin, has been at the centre of a violent pay dispute after workers demanded a pay increase to 12,500 rand, or £976 a month.

The London based company had earlier warned striking miners that they would lose their jobs if they did not return to work.

The President of South Africa, Jacob Zuma, has said the was 'shocked and dismayed at this senseless violence'. Helen Zille, leader of opposition party the Democratic Alliance, has called for an independent investigation into the shootings.

Written by Alfred Joyner