18 people were killed by South African police during a wildcat mining strike Thursday, in an episode that was captured entirely by TV news cameras and has stunned the nation, reminding many of not-too-distant days when police would shoot at anti-apartheid protesters.

Police opened fire on a small group of strikers, downing dozens in a hail of bullets and dust. The group had broken off from a larger demonstration that included women and children, and numbered in the thousands. People in the larger march had been seen brandishing machetes, spears, sticks and wooden cudgels, but it is not clear any of the prostesters killed in the smaller group were armed.

Regardless, when the smaller march attempted to outflank a police vehicle that was laying barbed wires, police at first shot cannisters of tear gas, and then live ammunition, into the crowd.

It is not the first time violence broke out at the platinum mine where the strike is taking place -- where workers are asking for their salaries to be tripled. Ten people had been killed last week as part of a confrontation between rival unions.

South Africa is home to four-fifths of the world's platinum reserves.