JOHANNESBURG -- Photo and video evidence presented to a commission investigating the police shooting that left 34 striking miners dead strongly suggests that weapons were placed next to the bodies of dead miners, in an attempt to make it appear that the police had no choice but to fire on them, according to lawyers representing the families of the victims.
A commission of inquiry has been hearing testimony from police officials, mining companies, union leaders and witnesses to try to determine what happened on Aug. 16, when the police opened fire on platinum miners engaged in a wildcat strike for higher wages in Marikana, 80 miles northwest of Johannesburg.
The killings, so reminiscent of apartheid-era shootings of protesting activists, set off widespread outrage and copycat strikes at other mines among workers angry at the persistent poverty and inequality that have come to characterize post-apartheid South Africa.
There is little doubt that at least some of the miners at Marikana had been violent. Ten people, including two security guards and two police officers, had already been killed by the miners during the course of the strike before the police shooting took place.
Then, in a detailed multimedia briefing the day after the shooting, police officials argued that the miners, many of them brandishing traditional weapons like clubs, spears and machetes, had refused to turn back when fired upon with rubber bullets and other nonlethal weapons.
"The militant group stormed toward the police firing shots and wielding dangerous weapons," the police commissioner, Riah Phiyega, said at the time, arguing that officers were left with no option but to open fire with live ammunition.
But investigations by local journalists -- and now testimony and documentary evidence at the commission, lawyers contend -- have suggested a far more sinister portrait of the events that unfolded that afternoon.
On Monday, gruesome images of the dead were shown as relatives looked on, sometimes in tears. One photograph showed the crumpled, bloody body of a miner next to a hunk of rock. In a police video taken during the day, nothing lies next to his outstretched right hand. But in a photograph taken in the dark, which lawyers say was taken later the same day, a machete with a yellow handle lies next to the man's hand.
"The evidence clearly showed there is at least a strong prima facie case that there has been an attempt to defeat the ends of justice," George Bizos, the anti-apartheid lawyer who defended Nelson Mandela against treason charges that sent him to Robben Island for 27 years, told the inquiry, the Sapa news agency reported.
In one of the videos, police officers can be heard joking and laughing next to the bodies of the slain miners. Two dead miners were photographed in handcuffs. Another body was found to have 12 bullet injuries.
The testimony also revealed the horrific violence that preceded the police shooting. A police official presented photographs two security guards who had been hacked to death by a mob of striking workers seeking to march on the headquarters of a rival union. One's face was hacked, and his tongue cut out. The other's body was burned so badly as to be unrecognizable.
The commission, which is led by a retired justice of South Africa's Supreme Court of Appeal, has been hearing evidence since Oct. 1 and is expected to finish its work within four months of its creation.
This article originally appeared in The New York Times.