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.

Analysis

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
    -25

    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
    +34

    Comment number 146.

    There's no excuse for the violence but the terms and conditions of the platinum mine workers must be appalling to inflame that level of anger.

    Investigate Lonmin and the whole mining industry.

  • rate this
    +31

    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
    -2

    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
    +23

    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!

 

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