Outrage as SA miners face murder charges


SOUTH AFRICA’S justice minister yesterday called on the national prosecution authority to explain its decision to charge 270 arrested miners with the murder of dozens of their colleagues who were gunned down by police last month.

Justice minister Jeff Radebe asked for a report clarifying the rationale behind the decision taken by the director of public prosecutions, saying it had left the South African public shocked and confused.

“There is no doubt that the [authority’s] decision has induced a sense of shock, panic and confusion within the members of the community and the general South African public,” Mr Radebe said. “It is therefore incumbent upon me to seek clarity on the basis upon which such a decision is taken.”

The 270 men have been in custody since August 16th last when police opened fire on a group of about 3,000 striking miners near the Marikana platinum mine in the northwest province.

The incident, dubbed the Marikana massacre, left 34 miners dead and 78 injured. Police say they opened fire because they were threatened by the protesters who advanced towards them armed with machetes and pistols.

The men charged with their colleagues’ murders were arrested in the aftermath of the shooting.

They were initially charged with public violence, but on Thursday at the Ga-Rankuwa Magistrate’s Court, near Pretoria, the prosecution authority charged them with murder 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 state has placed murder charges against all of them. Finer details around the charges will emerge in court when their bail application starts next week,” authority spokesman Frank Lesenyego said.

He said each of the miners had also been charged with attempted murder and public violence. Their cases have been adjourned until Thursday because Magistrate Esau Bodigelo ruled that not enough information had been provided to start their bail applications. The men have been remanded in custody until then.

The authority’s decision to bring the new charges has been widely condemned across South Africa.

Expelled ANC Youth League leader Julius Malema, who has aligned himself to the miners since the shooting occurred, described the murder charges as madness.

“The policemen who killed those people are not in custody, not even one of them. This is madness,” he told protesters after the miners’ court hearing.

Constitutional law expert Pierre de Vos called the decision to charge the men “shameful” because it flouted the constitution.

“Unless what we saw on our TV screens [the shooting was recorded by independent camera crews] never happened or unless the NPA [authority] is hiding shocking and bizarre conspiracy theory-type evidence from us . . . there could be no possible valid reason for the NPA to have charged the miners with murder,” he said in a blog.

Spokesman for union federation Cosatu Patrick Craven said the authority’s approach exposed the lack of proper training within its ranks. “The NPA should have waited for the findings of the judicial commission of inquiry, which is tasked with uncovering the truth . . . before jumping the gun and laying such charges,” he said in a statement.