Families of workers missing from a mine where 34 people were shot dead in the worst police violence since apartheid on Saturday struggled to discover the fate of their loved ones as the nation sought answers.

Armored cars and police trucks patrolled the area around London-listed Lonmin's Marikana platinum mine while a helicopter circled above the spot where officers on Thursday opened fire on hundreds of workers on a wildcat strike.

More than 1,000 miners gathered nearby, still traumatized by the incident, while others trickled into the mine's hospital trying to find out if missing loved ones were dead, wounded or in jail.

The crackdown on Thursday left 34 dead, 78 wounded and 259 detained after 10 people were killed in attacks attributed to rivalry between unions during the week-long strike over demands for a wage rise.

A caravan outside the hospital was set up to provide information on the dead and wounded. Hospital security kept journalists from entering, appealing for privacy for the families.

"The complete name list of the injured and deceased is on an information kiosk board outside the Lonmin mine hospital," Captain Dennis Adriao was quoted by the Sapa news agency as saying. "It has been difficult for police to track down families as many people don't have phones."

In the latest probe called in the wake of the tragedy, Sapa reported that mining minister Susan Shabangu had created a taskforce for the platinum industry after urgent talks with mining leaders, unions and labor officials.

The police and Independent Police Investigative Directorate watchdog have opened what is likely to be a lengthy probe into the deaths at the mine, in addition to a national commission of inquiry announced by President Jacob Zuma.

Both London and Washington praised Zuma's decision to investigate the killings, with Britain's Foreign Office welcoming "the commitment of the South African government to resolving the situation through dialogue."

But axed firebrand youth leader Julius Malema, who was booted out of Zuma's African National Congress (ANC), fired a salvo at his former ally-turned-enemy whom he wants replaced as party leader.

"The minister of police must step down because this massacre was committed under his supervision. The same thing with President Zuma, he must step down," he told locals in Marikana.

Top labour leaders urged workers to remain calm, hoping to defuse the deadly rivalry between two miners' unions.

"Workers must calm down and allow leaders to address their issues," Sidumo Dlamini, president of the powerful Cosatu trade federation, said on national radio.

The violence stems from a conflict between the powerful National Union of Mineworkers and the upstart Association of Mineworkers and Construction Union (AMCU).

NUM has close links to the ruling African National Congress, having produced some of the party's top leaders.

But this has also created a sentiment that the union has become too comfortable in the corridors of power among South Africa's new black elite.

"The NUM is seen as compromised toward the government, and specifically toward President Zuma, and they are not seen any more as an effective union at the local level," said Dirk Kotze, a political analyst at the University of South Africa.

AMCU has jumped in to attract members by calling for a tripling of salaries for rock drill operators, from the current 4,000 rand ($486, 400 euros) a month.

Both AMCU and NUM have denounced the violence and denied taking part.

As investigators try to find out who fired first on Thursday, with the police claiming self-defence, analysts said there was plenty of blame to share.

"Tragically you've had a failure of leadership all around, in the unions, in government, and, none is prepared to say this, but also on the part of mine management. All of them are implicated," said political analyst Ebrahim Fakir. "The problem is this thing is going to erupt in three years' time again because the underlying inequalities, wage differentials, working conditions, health and safety on the mines are still being unaddressed and those are the crux of the issues."

Nobel literature prize winner Nadine Gordimer, a powerful critic of apartheid, meanwhile told AFP she never imagined such police violence in the new South Africa.

"I am absolutely devastated. I can't believe this terrible massacre between our own people, our own black people," she said. "Ghastly, completely unacceptable."

Lonmin, the world's number three platinum producer, said it would help identify and bury the dead and pay for the education of their children.

But it noted the strike was illegal and called employees to get back to work, saying, "A stable mining sector is vital to the economic future of this country."