South African police have expressed their "deep regret" over the shooting deaths of 34 miners in August and acknowledged that the force's response may have been disproportionate, in evidence before the Marikana inquiry on Monday.
"The situation got out of control," admitted police lawyer Ishmael Semenya, as he catalogued the fateful actions taken to disperse strikers at Lonmin's Marikana platinum mine on August 16.
Semenya insisted all police actions on that day were taken in self-defence -- pointing to two guns later found on the deceased and three other arms that were discovered.
"The use of lethal force was the last possible resort," he said, "there was no murderous intent from the part of the police service."
But he admitted that officers from a tactical response team had opened fire on advancing miners without any order to do so.
"The evidence may reveal that the response of the police may have been disproportionate," he said.
In the hearing room, some family members of the deceased wept quietly, dabbing their eyes with tissues as the evidence was read out.
President Jacob Zuma set up the probe after a swell of revulsion at the shootings, which were broadcast live on television and which reminded many of the worst brutality of the apartheid era.
The inquiry --led by appeals court judge Ian Farlam -- began deliberations on October 1, but was postponed because family members from rural parts of the country had been able to travel to Rustenburg, the largest town close to where the killings happened.
Over the course of weeks a total of 46 people were killed near the small town northwest of Johannesburg.
Autopsy reports of the 34 people killed by police were expected to show if all were part of a crowd that gathered on a hill near the mine armed with traditional weapons which authorities judged threatening, or if officers chased and killed some in cold blood between the boulders, as some witnesses have claimed.
Ten others were killed by striking workers in clashes before the police shooting, and two others died later in the strike.
London-based Lonmin on September 18 agreed to up to 22 percent pay hikes for strikers.