An inquiry into 46 deaths during a violent mine strike in South Africa reopened Monday after it was postponed for victims' families to travel and hear how their loved ones died.

Police lawyers told the commission that officers fired live ammunition at strikers at the Lonmin platinum mine in Marikana only when they could not control the situation any longer.

"The use of lethal force was the last possible resort," they said of the killing in the small town northwest of Johannesburg, in bloodshed likened to apartheid-era police brutality.

"It was the object of disarming and dispersing over 3,000 protesters. The SAPS (South African Police Service) remained focused on one outcome: a peaceful resolution."

President Jacob Zuma set up the probe after the shooting, which was broadcast live on television. The commission, led by appeals court judge Ian Farlam, started on October 1, but was postponed because no family members had been able to travel to the Rustenburg, the largest town close to where the killings happened.

Bussed from far-flung areas like the rural Eastern Cape province, relatives sat in the front row in Rustenburg's Civic Centre. Most were women, some dressed in black but others wearing colourful blankets and scarves.

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.

[Image via Agence France-Presse]