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 108.

    They cannot be serious.

  • rate this

    Comment number 107.

    i think there is a big difference to uk law< and uk residents shouldnt really try to justify actions. a country where ak 47 variations are supplied by 5 different nations gives the police and army justfication to doubt any protest i think. they are and have been for the last 20 yrs trying to make an effort to bring africa forward but industrial and acceptance of democracy havent gone together

  • rate this

    Comment number 106.

    South Africa clearly needs the British Justice, we have advanced our system to where we know how to charge police and find them not guilty regardless of what they've done or any pesky evidence that gets in the way. In fact we give them promotions for murdering foreign electricians. Cressida Dick says "Thanks Lads!"

  • rate this

    Comment number 105.

    With creating of disturbances is the order of the day;a gathering not necessarily carried a unified Agenda to demand a legitimate issue solved.Knowing such factors playing a part everywhere,the Police should have been well prepared to confront the Crisis through use of rubber bullets and water cannon etc.instead of engaging in a Gun Battle where the innocents shall get killed to ignite it.

  • rate this

    Comment number 104.

    I can only see this leading to more violence.What an asinine reaction and not one likely to calm matters down.

  • rate this

    Comment number 103.

    This is getting worse than Sharpeville.

  • rate this

    Comment number 102.

    In the official report, majority of the miners were shot in the back, now how can they be charged with murder? Being dead is their defence. This country will slide back to the bad old days if it's not careful, no matter who, what colour they are? people in power can become corrupt. South Africa being a young democracy - should avoid old sickly habits & examine once again, it's political health!

  • rate this

    Comment number 101.

    This would be comical if weren't so serious. Charging victims for being victimized? It is incomprehensible.

  • rate this

    Comment number 100.

    This armed mob had murdered 8 strikers and 2 policemen and cut livers and tongues from two.

    If it had broken through the police line don't think for one minute that the media would have been spared in the frenzied carnage . . . and then it would be a different story wouldn't it?

  • rate this

    Comment number 99.

    This situation would not have arisen if the some of the vast wealth that black labour has dug out of the ground over the centuries in South Africa was used to provide them with a decent standard of living.

  • rate this

    Comment number 98.

    The police killed the miners. The police have admitted that fact. So the authorities admit that the miners were murdered. Then charge the police with murder.

  • rate this

    Comment number 97.

    The ruling elite within the ANC are now as in touch with reality and world opinion as the old National party.
    The country has a near monopoly on the production of platinum yet it allows the mining companies to pay paltry wages because labour is available in volume. Labour starved Austrailia's mining industry has to pay first world wages with world standard H&S but is still successful.

  • rate this

    Comment number 96.

    I suppose the SA legal argument runs that the miners gathered together in a common purpose to charge the police line in order to either harm them or put them (the police) in fear of harm. The police fired in self defence which was made inevitable by the miners actions hence a reversed charge of murder. Interesting point, although I can understand why people in the UK are upset about it.

  • rate this

    Comment number 95.

    I thought South Africa would develop into a very different country. I had thought with the end of Apartheid it would become a champion of personal freedoms and a diamond in Africa's crown. How wrong I was.

  • rate this

    Comment number 94.

    This action by the NPA is nuts, it seems that anyone in authority will make up or change the rules as they see fit.

    Western Nations are no better as we all head towards living in a police state where government can do no wrong.

  • rate this

    Comment number 93.

    @86 squirrel

    Please see my comment 81. Read this report. Maybe you'll change your mind.

  • rate this

    Comment number 92.

    seems an interesting way of proceeding i would have thought the government would aim to quell the problem and create an atmosphere of peace but seems this is not the way sadly.

  • rate this

    Comment number 91.

    this kind of thing is happening all over the world. we get upset for a few minutes, then we just go on. the result of this kind of apathy is slavery. it is already here and now. proof right here in this story.

  • rate this

    Comment number 90.

    Let's be fair here. These are 270 violent, angry, strikers and this strike is continuing. with comments made by miners like, "We must find a way to deal with the people going to work". They can not be held or kept away from the fray without being charged. So untill things cool down, It's probably a good move, and in the interest of public safety. We'll see if it ever comes to trial.

  • rate this

    Comment number 89.

    Hold on everyone. We overthrew Libya because they started to kill protesters. We are arming rebels and attempting to overthrow the Syrian government because they killed some protesters. Why are we not invading South Africa?? Whats the difference. Just call it humanitarian aid and then send in the boys.


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