South African Marikana miners charged with murder

Police keep watch during the arrival of some of the  mine workers, at a Garankuwa court outside Pretoria (20 August 2012) Six of the 270 arrested miners remain in hospital

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Workers arrested at South Africa's Marikana mine have been charged in court with the murder of 34 of their colleagues shot by police.

The 270 workers would be tried under the "common purpose" doctrine because they were in the crowd which confronted police on 16 August, an official said.

Police opened fire, killing 34 miners and sparking a national outcry.

The decision to charge the workers was "madness", said former ruling ANC party youth leader Julius Malema.

"The policemen who killed those people are not in custody, not even one of them. This is madness," said Mr Malema, who was expelled from the ANC (African National Congress) earlier this year following a series of disagreements with President Jacob Zuma.

"The whole world saw the policemen kill those people," Mr Malema said, adding that he would ask defence lawyers to make an urgent application at the high court.

The killing of the 34 was the most deadly police action since South Africa became a democracy in 1994.


The decision by the South African authorities to charge 270 workers with the murder of 34 of their colleagues who were shot dead by police is politically controversial.

The prosecution is relying on the "common purpose" doctrine, once used by the former white minority regime against black activists fighting for democracy.

At the time, the African National Congress (ANC), the former liberation movement now in power, campaigned against the doctrine.

Now, its critics will accuse it of behaving just like the apartheid regime and turning victims into perpetrators.

The government has already been strongly criticised over the shooting, which has been dubbed the "Marikana massacre" and compared to the atrocities committed by the apartheid-era police.

The National Prosecuting Authority is officially an independent body but most South Africans believe it has close links to the ANC and this decision is likely to lead to more condemnation of President Jacob Zuma's government.

Six of the 270 workers remain in hospital, after being wounded in the shooting at the mine owned by Lonmin, the world's third biggest platinum producer, in South Africa's North West province.

The other 264 workers appeared in the Ga Rankuwa magistrates court near the capital, Pretoria.

Their application for bail was rejected and the hearing was adjourned for seven days.

About 100 people protested outside the court, demanding the immediate release of the men.

'Flagrant abuse'

National Prosecuting Authority (NPA) spokesman Frank Lesenyego told the BBC the 270 workers would all face murder charges - including those who were unarmed or were at the back of the crowd.

"This is under common law, where people are charged with common purpose in a situation where there are suspects with guns or any weapons and they confront or attack the police and a shooting takes place and there are fatalities," he said.

South African lawyer Jay Surju told the BBC's Focus on Africa programme that the "common purpose" doctrine was used by the former white minority regime against activists fighting for racial equality in South Africa.

"This is a very outdated and infamous doctrine," he said.

"It was discredited during the time of apartheid."

The decision has also been condemned as "a flagrant abuse of of the criminal justice system" by constitutional lawyer Pierre de Vos.

The best known case was that of the "Upington 14", who were sentenced to death in 1989 for the murder of a policeman in 1985.

The trial judge convicted the 14 activists, even though he acknowledged that they did not carry out the killing.

Striking Lonmin mine workers form a group to sing and dance after listening to a report about the state of their wage negotiations on August 29, 2012 in Marikana. The strike has halted production at the mine for three weeks

Anti-apartheid activists around the world protested against the ruling, which was overturned on appeal.

During a visit to the mine after the Marikana killings, President Zuma told workers he "felt their pain" and promised that a commission of inquiry would investigate the killings.

Mr Lesenyego said the commission would rule on the conduct of the police.

"It's a separate case," he said.

The commission and an internal police review are expected to take several months to complete.

Police said they started shooting after being threatened by large groups of miners armed with machetes.

Ten people, including two police officers and two security guards, were killed during the protests before the police shooting.

The protests were triggered by demands for a huge pay rise and recognition of a new union.

Talks are continuing to resolve the dispute, which has shut the mine for the past three weeks.


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  • rate this

    Comment number 68.


    Before accusing me of not checking my facts, you should perhaps ask the BBC to check theirs: "Workers arrested at South Africa's Marikana mine have been charged in court with the murder of 34 of their colleagues shot by police.".

    That is very clear, and implies nothing to do with burnt miners or hacked-to-death police. Misleading headlines don't excuse serious abuse of laws.

  • rate this

    Comment number 67.

    To those who claim this was a legitimate industrial dispute, you don't go into a legitimate industrial dispute brandishing machetes! The miners clearly have a legitimate grievance, but this was not the right way to go about it and they can hardly complain if the police responded with lethal force themselves when faced with lethal weapons and when they had previously been attacked.

  • rate this

    Comment number 66.

    As someone who has worked through a mining strike in SA I know the feeling. My union wasn't on strike but I was threatened with violence towards me & my family, even though I had done nothing wrong. It is frightening to see the mob mentality and how quickly it escalates out of control. If the mob had not charged the police, those men would still be alive, they are guilty through their own actions.

  • rate this

    Comment number 65.

    WHAT!!!!!!! Are they insane? Are they stupid? Do they think we are stupid. Pfff

  • rate this

    Comment number 64.

    I am highly unimpressed by the BBC coverage of this event in favour of our ex-Apartheid allies.

    "The protests were triggered by demands for a huge pay rise and recognition of a new union."

    Let's be honest: the protests were not triggered by the demands, the protests AND the demands were obviously triggered by low pay and failure to recognise a new union.

    Absolutely laughable, BBC.

  • rate this

    Comment number 63.

    Scandal! Scandal! Scandal!

    Well now we know that south Africa is a police state

  • rate this

    Comment number 62.

    This is the epitome of not having a nationwide CCTV. When you cant single out individuals, you just take em all. Just picture yourself, working in that mine, day in and day out for 365 days a year. You make a lousy wage, have no health-care, insurance, etc. It would've driven you crazy, wouldnt it? Would you eventually stand up and cry? Even if it meant taking a life, for the better?

  • rate this

    Comment number 61.

    This mine strike has seen little to no coverage here in the US, mainly because of Isaac and the RNC, but now it is all over the place. There have been throughout history many ways of breaking a strike but nothing as absurd and ridiculous as arresting the remaining 270 workers for the murder of 34 of their fellow workers who everyone knows were shot and killed by police.

  • rate this

    Comment number 60.


    What responsibility will the unions take for inspiring men to a, burn two miners alive, and hack police officers to death leading up to this, and b, then spurring them on to arm themselves and advance towards police officers, who naturally had no choice but to fire upon them, or risk being added to the hacked to death copper numbers.

  • rate this

    Comment number 59.

    WWNMD - what would Nelson Mandela do?

  • rate this

    Comment number 58.

    Excellent and quite right.

    Now get marking me down....I could not care less ;D

  • rate this

    Comment number 57.

    Mind boggling and what some people commenting here seem to have missed is that the article says that these miners have been charged with the murders of 34 of THEIR CO-DEMONSTRATORS (you know, those that were actually shot by the police) and not the police etc whom some of their number are alleged to have killed.
    If correct, this is absurd and completely ridiculous.

  • rate this

    Comment number 56.

    Just as a matter of morbid interest: how many miles from Marikana to Sharpeville?

  • rate this

    Comment number 55.

    Good, then those responsible should be prosecuted (on both sides)

    Joint enterprise laws set a very dangerous precident as they will always tend to be selectively applied in a one-sided way. I'd prefer people prosecuted for what they HAVE done, rather than what they might do, else we might as well live in a Minority Report era. Operation Trapwire? Guess we're too late.

  • rate this

    Comment number 54.

    rnrdoctor@46- were you watching different news from the rest of us. The BBC footage showed the miners dancing and waving machetes and knobkerry clubs saying how they intended to kill anyone who tried to go to work. I would say that shows intent, and not the innocent peace loving oppressed slaves you seem to have seen. Farkyss@45- check your facts two dead police and several miners days before .

  • rate this

    Comment number 53.

    Protestors get shot by police and 34 of them die so in their twisted logic that means the protestors are now murderers.

  • Comment number 52.

    This comment was removed because the moderators found it broke the house rules. Explain.

  • rate this

    Comment number 51.

    The miners, the police both victims of greed! What responsibility will the government and mine owners take for their part in this? I suspect none whatsoever! Sickening!

  • rate this

    Comment number 50.

    Here's an idea: charge the SA Police under the same law.
    The difference, U14758196, is that strikers were there to take part in an industrial dispute. The Police were there specifically to kill them.

  • rate this

    Comment number 49.

    35.U14758196 "****************"
    What you say is very true but I doubt that the majority would
    1. Know about it in the UK or
    2. Give excuses why it would not be applicable in the UK.

    It would also be lawful to shoot the whole lot of them if they were acting in a riotous way.
    Somehow lost is the dignity of a Law Abiding Society because of a greedy mining company?


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