South African miners held over deaths to be released

Mon, Sep 3, 2012, 01:00

MURDER CHARGES laid against 270 miners in South Africa last week have been withdrawn by the National Prosecution Authority, which announced the men will also be released from custody once their addresses are verified.

The rock drillers have been in custody since August 16th, when police opened fire on a group of about 3,000 striking miners near the Marikana platinum mine in the North West province, killing 34 and wounding a further 78.

Last Thursday however the fallout from the shooting took a surprising twist at the Ga-Rankuwa magistrate’s court near Pretoria, when the authority charged each of them with the murder of their colleagues under the apartheid-era “common purpose” doctrine.

The prosecutors argued they were part of the group of striking miners whose violent actions provoked the police into opening fire on them.

The decision drew widespread criticism from across South African society and prompted justice minister Jeff Radebe to announce on Friday that he would seek clarity on the reasons for the move.

Mr Radebe said the charges had “induced a sense of shock, panic and confusion within the members of the community and the general South African public”.

However, early yesterday it seemed like the men’s chances of getting out of custody were slim.

Lawyers for the 270 accused had written to President Jacob Zuma demanding that they be freed by 11am. Mr Zuma had earlier created a commission of inquiry with broad powers to investigate the shooting.

His office responded by saying he would not intervene in the proceedings. Within a couple of hours of that exchange, though, the prosecution authority was forced into an embarrassing climbdown.

“The murder charge against the current 270 suspects . . . will be formally withdrawn provisionally in court on their next court appearance,” Nomgcobo Jiba, the national deputy director of public prosecutions, told an impromptu press conference.

“The protesters are to be released conditionally on a warning and their case postponed pending the finalisation of investigations, including the investigations by the commission,” he added.

From today, the miners will be released in phases and those whose residential addresses can be verified by police will be released from custody following a court appearance.

However, those whose addresses cannot be verified by today will have to remain in custody until their next court appearance on Thursday.

Officials from the prosecution authority said they were waiting for the findings of other investigations into the shootings and did not rule out bringing murder charges again.

“Final charges will only be made once all investigations have been completed,” said Mr Jiba.

“The murder charges against the current 270 suspects will be formally withdrawn provisionally in court.”

Charges against the police who were involved in the incident had also not been ruled out, prosecutors said.

“The actions of the police will be sorted out still,” said Johan Smit, a provincial prosecutor in the region where the strike took place. “We are not ignoring that,” he added.