MARIKANA - South Africa on Wednesday readied for nationwide memorials to honour the 44 people killed during a wildcat strike at the Lonmin platinum mine, most of them shot by police, whereas President Jacob Zuma met with Lonmin mineworkers on a wildcat strike which saw 34 killed by police last week, in the worst day of violence since apartheid.

Ceremonies were planned for Thursday in Marikana, 100 kilometers (62 miles) from Johannesburg, where police gunned down 34 miners in a clash a week ago, said Collins Chabane, chief of the president’s office.

“We are looking at the memorial service at Marikana... there is a decision that there should be a memorial service,” said Chabane in an interview on public radio. Labour discontent spread through South Africa’s platinum mines Wednesday, as the nation prepared memorials for the 44 killed in a wildcat strike at Lonmin’s Marikana mine, most shot by police. About 600 workers downed tools at the nearby Royal Bafokeng Platinum Mine. Most said they were rock drill operators seeking higher wages.

Anglo American Platinum, the world’s top producer, said it had also received a list of demands from workers but declined to comment on the issues raised.

Zuma visited the mine the day after last Thursday’s bloodshed at the firm’s Marikana operations, near the mining town of Rustenburg, cutting short his visit to Mozambique for a regional summit. On that trip, he visited the wounded in hospital and announced a commission of inquiry to investigate the killings, but strikers complained he had not met with them directly.

“I could only meet police leadership on the day, I could not come here as it was late but I managed to go to hospital where some of the injured workers related what happened to me,” Zuma told the miners.

The new disputes emerged following Lonmin’s first talks with representatives of the 3,000 workers who launched a strike on August 10 to demand higher wages. Anglican Bishop Johannes Seoka, who facilitated the talks late Tuesday, said the meeting was cordial and that both sides showed a willingness to cooperate.

“All we ask management is to please allow workers to give them their demands, to listen to them and to engage with them because the workers have been asking just to talk,” he told AFP.

“If they had talked earlier on, the massacre would have been avoided,” he added.

Lonmin spokeswoman Sue Vey said the meeting had not focused on workers’ demands.

“It was a meeting of employers and employees, basically discussing the current situation,” she said. “It’s the first time they’ve managed to sit down (and talk) and that’s good.” The workers, mainly rock drill operators, are demanding a monthly salary of 12,500 rand ($1,500, 1,200 euros), saying they currently earn 4,000 rand. Lonmin says that when their bonuses and other allowances are included, the workers earn around 11,000 rand, with a nine-percent increase set to kick in on October 1.

Workers who attended the talks said they also wanted the release of the 259 people arrested after the police crackdown last Thursday, when officers gunned down 34 people. “We want our brothers who (were) arrested to be freed, without bail. They must attend the memorial service” Thursday, said Kwenene Msindiseni, a rock driller.

South Africa is preparing services across the country on Thursday to mourn those killed by police in the bloodiest day of protest since apartheid. The service will also honour the 10 people, including two police, killed in clashes among workers in the first days of the strike.