ANC deputy president Cyril Ramaphosa said his call for action against striking Lonmin workers in Marikana last year and the subsequent death of 34 mineworkers were not linked.
In an interview with CNN on Tuesday, Ramaphosa said emails which emerged during a commission into the shooting, in which he called for "concomitant action" against the "criminal" strikers, were a separate issue.
"Basically all it boils down to is that prior to the killing of the 34 people by police guns, 10 people had died and some of them had died in the most brutal way," he told CNN host Christiane Amanpour.
"They had died in what I still see as a 'criminal' way... I was appealing to the authorities to take action to prevent further deaths."
He said that after he made that call, police decided the strike had to come to an end and "another situation unfolded".
"[The two situations] are de-linked because I was calling for peace. I was calling for the saving of lives. Then, the following day, it [the shooting] happened in the most horrendous way," Ramaphosa said.
"A long part of my life was spent serving mineworkers, and there is just no way that I could ever have said that mineworkers should be killed."
Ramaphosa was the first general secretary of the National Union of Mineworkers.
He said the African National Congress had achieved a lot for South Africa in the country's 18 years of democracy, but acknowledged that more needed to be done.
"The ANC has been the first to say that we have challenges: there are problems that we are facing and there are weaknesses within our structures," Ramaphosa said.
"We need to re-establish the moral compass of our organisation."
He said many South Africans perceived the ANC in a negative light, and this needed to change.
"The ANC has bared its own soul... and has admitted a lot of those [negative] things. Now that, to me, is indicative of a party that is quite ready to start a process of correcting quite a lot of those perceptions," Ramaphosa said,
"Perceptions, in life and in politics, can soon be a reality and we need to address them."
Ramaphosa said he was not thinking about succeeding President Jacob Zuma at the party's next elective conference.
"The party line in the ANC is that you are chosen, you never choose yourself. You never raise your arm. The people choose you," he said.
"I was minding my own business, and the people said 'we want you to come into this position' and I heeded that."
Ramaphosa was elected as deputy president of the ANC at the party's national conference in Mangaung (Bloemfontein) in December.
He said he was confident the ANC would win the general election in 2014, with Zuma as its leader.
"He is going to lead our party into the next election. He is going to be the face of our campaign and all of us, as members of the ANC, are going to rally behind him."
Ramaphosa said the ANC would wait for a report into the reported R200-million renovation of Zuma's private home in Nkandla, KwaZulu-Natal, before discussing the saga.
"Now, we are waiting for the results of that [investigation] and I think we should all wait and see what the outcome of that is."