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 128.

    Workers strike for better pay, police shoot workers, workers charged with murder... It is sickening.

    Zuma is just as corrupt as his white predecessors...

    It seems that nothing has changed now a black leader is in charge of George Orwell's farm

  • rate this

    Comment number 127.

    Madness. Not really sure about the whole "charge the police instead" thing though they were literally seconds away from being charged by a mob of several hundred wielding machetes. And for those saying that SA is not "one of the civilised nations" etc, you might want to take a look at the company that actually owns that mine....

  • rate this

    Comment number 126.

    Does this give the police a licence to kill ?

  • rate this

    Comment number 125.

    the only change in africa since mandella is that blacks decide when its right or wrong rather than whites, im not racist but tbh its still exactly the same as the uk those with money run it those that dont have it pay those that do

  • rate this

    Comment number 124.

    Silly politicians seems to be worldwide problem.

  • rate this

    Comment number 123.

    The silence of our government, which is normally only too eager to stick it's nose into the affairs of other countries, is deafening!

    Where is the condemnation from the British government?

  • rate this

    Comment number 122.

    When the authorities start using the same draconian laws that were used during the Apartheid period in today's South Africa, something is seriously wrong.

    I still find it hard to believe that the govt will even keep such laws on the statute book, talkless of using it. Shame on them.

  • rate this

    Comment number 121.

    This is an attempt by the SA government to close down any dissent. The reason there will be no international official outcry is that most western governments would do the same if they could.
    Who will want to attend any rally knowing that if there is a single crime committed by anyone, then everyone there can be charged with it too.
    Perfect for a government who doesn't like dissent. Putin?

  • rate this

    Comment number 120.

    I think that we in the 'first world" felt that South Africa would fundamentally change when Nelson Mandela became president.
    Facts show that not to be the case, and not just with underpaid platinum miners. Black workers everywhere are an underclass taken advantage of by the wealthy, working for poor pay to keep their masters in comfort.
    Open your eyes people.This is the world in which we live!

  • rate this

    Comment number 119.

    How sad to have exchanged one sort of persecution for another. The country needs oppositon to the ANC. One wonders if such a grouping would be declared terrorists and its members sent to Robben Island?

  • rate this

    Comment number 118.

    When the right to protest is undermined in this way, and the protesters charged for the police killing other protesters, a nation can no longer seriously consider itself a democracy. What's shocking is this is so low down in the headlines. Whether or not the police acted in self defence, that these miners can be blamed for the police gunning down other protesters is ridiculous.

  • rate this

    Comment number 117.

    quite right too. The police are there to protect and serve and if that means opening fire on a rampaging mob then so be it. They should be granted immunity from prosecution because they kill for the general good. If we handed greater powers to our poice so that they may execute you int he street for breaking the law we would save a lot of money. Give the police guns and immunity from prosecution

  • rate this

    Comment number 116.

    Since the SA government needs the police on-side to retain power, I would imagine the policemen concerned will ultimately get a damn good letting off!

    In the UK we would use CCTV footage and so on to identify the ringleaders and bring them to proper justice. If the SA authorities lack such detailed evidence perhaps this is their plan to identify the ringleaders by scaring all concerned?

  • rate this

    Comment number 115.

    On a day when the UN has the gall to tell the World they are failing the people of Mali, Where are they going to stand on this matter?
    Probably the same place they are standing when it comes to Syria, on the outside watching, saying a lot, but doing nothing of great purpose.
    How much do tax payers contribute ( through government coffers ) to this toothless body?

  • rate this

    Comment number 114.

    It seems that in South Africa, if Group A kills people from Group B, then survivors of Group B can be charged with murder. If this law applied in the UK then presumably the surviving shoppers of the Omagh Massacre,and the witnesses of Yvonne Fletcher's murder would all have been prosecuted. Obviously this law is ludicrous, or a clever, cynical ploy to divert attention from the guilty.

  • rate this

    Comment number 113.

    That's it! I boycotted apartheid South Africa for repressive measures under the last regime including the "common purpose" policy ; I am going to boycott it again if these miners aren't freed. Not to do so would be hypocrisy.

  • rate this

    Comment number 112.

    The South African govement are sickening . They have gone from being run by racists to being run by corrupt flunkys for big companys. they are a disgrace

  • rate this

    Comment number 111.

    This is a Government digging deeper and deeper! The truth is that South African politicians are in the pay of the major corporates and it is in their interest to suppress the workers. It is time that the ANC relinquished power if it cannot move towards fulfilling the aspirations of the population.

  • rate this

    Comment number 110.

    When de*mock*racy came to Russia, we thought we could say goodbye to communism and the tzars, but look who's in the Kremlin.
    When Nelson Mandela was released and apartheid dismantled, we thought we could say goodbye to massacres of blacks, but look what is happening in South Africa today.

  • rate this

    Comment number 109.

    This is sick. Merely being in a group can mean you're charged with murder while those who carried out the killings (police) merely face an inquiry and are on the loose. Despicable justice harking from the Apartheid era.


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