South Africa drops miners’ murder charges – for now
Prosecutors drop charges against 270 miners accused of killing striking colleagues, but say they may be recharged later
Reuters in Johannesburg
- guardian.co.uk, Sunday 2 September 2012 14.55 BST
South African prosecutors have provisionally withdrawn murder charges against 270 miners who had been accused of killing 34 striking colleagues shot dead by police, but said they could be recharged when investigations were complete.
Public anger had been mounting at the charges, made under an apartheid-era law under which the miners were deemed to have had a “common purpose” in the murder of their co-workers.
The killing of the strikers last month at the Marikana mine, run by platinum producer Lonmin, was the worst such security incident since the end of white rule in 1994, and recalled scenes of apartheid-era state brutality.
“Final charges will only be made once all investigations have been completed. The murder charges against the current 270 suspects will be formally withdrawn provisionally in court,” Nomgcobo Jiba, the acting national director of prosecutions, said in a televised news conference.
In all, 44 people were killed in the recent wave of violence stemming from an illegal strike and union turf war.
Leading members of the ruling African National Congress had also expressed dismay at the charges as a public backlash grew.
“We are all surprised and confused by the National Prosecuting Authority’s legal strategy,” the ANC’s chief whip in parliament said on Friday.
President Jacob Zuma has seen his support eroded over the killings and the state’s handling of the matter, with his enemies saying he is more interested in protecting the mining industry and powerful labour groups than the
South African mining unrest spreads to Gold Fields
World’s fourth biggest gold mine says quarter of its 46,000 workers walked out after violent protest at Lonmin platinum mine
- guardian.co.uk, Friday 31 August 2012 18.29 BST
Unrest among South African miners has spread to the world’s fourth biggestgold mine.
Bullion miner Gold Fields said about a quarter of its 46,000 workers have walked out in the first strike to affect South Africa‘s gold mining industry since violent protest shut down London-listed Lonmin’s platinum mine nearby three weeks ago.
Gold Fields, which is listed in Johannesburg, said 12,000 miners have been on a “unlawful and unprotected” strike at the KDC mine near Johannesburg since Wednesday.
The KDC mine produced 1.1m troy ounces of gold in the year ending December 2011. Gold Fields’ shares closed down 2.8%.
At Lonmin’s Marikana mine, just 5.7% of miners turned up for work on Friday, a day after South African prosecutors said they were charging 270 miners arrested during the so-called “Marikana massacre” with the murder of their 34 colleagues who were shot dead by police.
The murder charge – and associated charges for the attempted murder of 78 miners injured at the Marikana mine near Johannesburg – was brought under an obscure Roman-Dutch common law previously used by the apartheid government.
The move came as the men appeared in court charged with public violence over the clashes at the Lonmin platinum mine on 16 August when striking miners armed with clubs, machetes and at least one gun allegedly charged police, who opened fire.
Julius Malema, the former African National Congress Youth League leader, who has called for President Jacob Zuma to resign over the “massacre”, told supporters of miners outside the courthouse that the charges were “madness”.
South Africa‘s justice minister rebuked prosecutors for the move, saying the decision had caused “shock, panic and confusion” among the general public.
Mines minister Susan Shabangu acknowledged this week that the recent labour violence would impact potential investment into South Africa.
South African miners face a travesty of justice under an apartheid-era law
Use of ‘common purpose’ doctrine to charge miners shot by police is a throwback to the bad old days of the apartheid regime
South Africa’s government has in recent years taken to mimicking its apartheid predecessors, but nothing quite prepared most of us here for the decision on Thursday to charge 270 Lonmin miners with the murder of their own colleagues through an obscure apartheid-era law.
Fouteen days after 34 striking miners were mowed down by police gunfire in just three minutes at Lonmin’s Marikana mine, the National Prosecuting Authority hauled out the “common purpose” doctrine – last used in 1989 against activists by an embattled apartheid government – to charge the 270 arrested mineworkers with the murder of their own colleagues.
It is a decision that defies logic, spits at the ANC’s own history of opposition to the doctrine, and has been received with incredulity across the political spectrum. So shocked are most South Africans that the minister of justice, Jeff Radebe, was forced to issue a statement on Friday asking for an explanation from the prosecutions chief.
“There is no doubt that the NPA’s decision has induced a sense of shock, panic and confusion within the members of the community and the general South African public. It is therefore incumbent upon me to seek clarity on the basis upon which such a decision is taken,” Radebe said.
The charges are even more bizarre in light of an investigation published on Thursday by Pulitzer prize-winning photographer Greg Marinovich in which he claims that some of the mineworkers were shot in cold blood by police out of sight of journalists.
“It is becoming clear to this reporter that heavily armed police hunted down and killed the miners in cold blood. A minority were killed in the filmed event (in which) police claim they acted in self-defence. The rest was murder on a massive scale,” he wrote.
The last time the “common purpose” doctrine was used was in 1989 when a grouping dubbed the “Upington 14” was sentenced to hang for the killing of a black police constable by a crowd of about 500.
Evelina de Bruin, a grandmother, spent two years awaiting the gallows despite the fact that there was no evidence that she had even touched the dead policeman. The ANC campaigned for her release then and her conviction was overturned in 1991. She died in March this year.
The decision to use this doctrine today seems to ignore the facts of the Upington 14 case. In overturning de Bruin’s conviction, South Africa’s appeal court ruled in 1991 that a crowd could not have an intention to kill, only individuals could. It said that to be found guilty of murder beyond possible doubt, an intention to kill had to be demonstrated in the case of each individual.
At the moment the state cannot even verify the miners’ addresses, let alone fit all of them into a court of law. It essentially does not even know them, yet incredibly, the state purports to know that each and every one of the 270 miners intended to get their own colleagues killed.
The common purpose doctrine was used in the 1980s by a regime that could not investigate or police its own people. Instead, it used a heinous blanket law to bully ordinary citizens and prevent them gathering and voicing their anger. Common purpose was the last throw of the dice of an illegitimate regime.
The ANC still enjoys huge legitimacy in South Africa. The body that took the decision to use common purpose is not the ANC, but the supposedly independent national prosecuting authority. However, President Zuma is close to the woman who heads it up and this year inexplicably and controversially expunged her husband’s criminal record. It seems that the separation between our politicians and independent institutions like the NPA is becoming extremely thin. Thursday’s charges are yet another incident that has left many wondering whether the party – and the government it leads – have lost the plot.