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 168.

    Excellent! So under such law if the person next to me is shot then I can be charged. After all clearly Im the one who pulled the trigger.

  • rate this

    Comment number 167.

    There is no doubt that the police would've been massacred if they had not open fire. There is also no doubt that the police did not have adequate training in how to deal with the situation that they found themselves in. Nepotism, cronyism and the old comrades network have gone a long way to reducing the quality of the police and military in SA, consequently debacles like this are no surprise.

  • rate this

    Comment number 166.

    In my opinion the actions of the police were actually in preportion to the mass threat posed by the miners, whom had already killed 10 people, including 2 police officers. The actions of the miners and the leaders who whipped the already tense situation in to a fury of violence are to blame. However the police need to review there handling of the riot otherwise this will happen over and over.

  • rate this

    Comment number 165.

    Totally disgraceful, unbelievable that this can happen in 2012.

  • rate this

    Comment number 164.

    >>>The bourgoisie have been waging class war on the proletariat for over 300 years. When are the working class going to wake up and realise that in unity the class enemy can be defeated.

    I kind of understand what you mean, but all that 19th century rhetoric doesn't really convey the reality or complexity of today's divides - and won't win you any converts.

  • rate this

    Comment number 163.

    Just shows how us how corrupt the world is...

  • rate this

    Comment number 162.

    Well its not like we do not let our Police get away with murder !

  • rate this

    Comment number 161.

    It can't be classed as Joint Enterprise as the protesters didn't kill their fellow protesters. If members of the crowd had killed police officers then they could all be charged under Joint Enterprise (local law permitting). Common Purpose is something else entirely as you can prosecute members of a group for crimes commited against themselves- no matter who actually commited them.

  • rate this

    Comment number 160.

    142.disillusioned ..demonizing of the working class especially those still actively involved in struggle and class war.....bourgoisie have been waging class war on the proletariat for over 300 years.

    Oh grow up !

  • rate this

    Comment number 159.

    Here, yet again we have signs of another African country sliding back into anarchy and corruption.

  • rate this

    Comment number 158.

    If this had happened in Iran ????

    The silence is deafening........

    Is the UN Charter a cruel hoax?

  • rate this

    Comment number 157.

    Bizarre kind of injustice seems to give the police a licence to kill and get away with it or am I missing something here ?

  • rate this

    Comment number 156.

    I guess the persons who pulled the trigger have nothing to fear.
    Assume they all acted in self defence.
    Any chance of the company paying any Lawyer willing to defend their Employees?

  • rate this

    Comment number 155.

    I notice that other massive mining companies are looking nervous as the workers' unrest spreads. Not surprising. Paying decent wages will hit profits and dividends. Rio Tinto share price is dropping fast.

    The charge of murder is absolutely ludicrous and reflects badly on the S A judicial system.

  • Comment number 154.

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

  • rate this

    Comment number 153.

    And people claim apartheid is dead. A diamond business used police as it's thugs and kill squad and the government does the bidding to prosecute its own people. The miners are guilty of something, but they are not guilty of murdering those shot by police. The proof is out there, and I hope it goes to a trial of their peers and they are summarily found innocent. Zumas presidency won't survive this.

  • rate this

    Comment number 152.

    The letters ANC now stands for, African ā€˜Nā€™ Capitalist.

  • rate this

    Comment number 151.

    mike ivybridge

    Many South Africans coming to live in Britain are white people who feel threatened by some of the ANC elite who think they have a divine right to rule a post-apartheid South Africa. I have friends out there and I am worried that if the extremest elements of the ANC have their way, SA will become the next Zimbabwe with white people being forcible evicted.

  • rate this

    Comment number 150.

    If those miners are convicted, I can already forsee the governement of SA will experience troubles like those in Egypt, Libya, and now Syria.

    The citizens of 'traditional' nations are no longer afraid of Government.

  • rate this

    Comment number 149.

    While I agree this is ridiculous, alot of the information regarding this is left out. The police only fired upon the miners when they were charged by the workers armed. 10 policeman died on that day with a further 2 hacked to death the previous day. Surely it makes more sense to charge the workers with murder of the 12 policeman than their 34 comrades?


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