South Africa Massacre: Miners Charged over Colleagues’ Deaths

State prosecutors investigating the police massacre of 34 striking miners use an apartheid-era law to charge 270 arrested miners with murdering their colleagues

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AFP / Getty Images

Police gather around fallen miners after they opened fire during clashes near the Lonmin platinum mine in Marikana, South Africa, on Aug. 16, 2012

Updated: Aug. 31, 2012 at 8:10 a.m. EST

The decision late Thursday by South Africa’s state prosecutors to use a notorious apartheid-era law to charge 270 striking miners with the murder of 34 of their colleagues — men who were actually shot dead by the police, as recorded by numerous television crews — marks a bizarre new low in a bloody scandal that threatens to strip the country’s postapartheid state of what remains of its moral authority. National Prosecuting Authority (NPA) spokesman Frank Lesenyego announced “34 counts of murder have been laid against the 270 accused” over the shooting dead by armed police of 34 fellow miners at the Lonmin platinum mine at Marikana in northern South Africa on Aug. 16. The miners, also accused of the attempted murder of 78 fellow miners who were injured, were charged under a law dating back to 1956 known as “common purpose,” said Lesenyego, in which members of a crowd present when a crime is committed can be prosecuted for incitement. In other words: the state says the miners provoked the police to kill them.

(PHOTOS: The Bloody Scenes at Marikana)

The law was used as a catchall by South Africa’s white supremacist apartheid regime to convict black antiapartheid leaders for, say, leading a march or demonstration where some crime was committed. The 34 dead miners were among 3,000 mineworkers who had walked out in the second week of August in a protest over pay which then rapidly deteriorated into a violent turf war between two rival unions. Their shooting by the police wielding machine guns had already evoked comparisons to the brutality of apartheid, in which the police shooting of demonstrators was a well-worn tactic of the regime. That only made the prosecutor’s additional application of an apartheid-era law even more shocking. Renegade youth leader Julius Malema, expelled from the ruling African National Congress (ANC) this year, called it “madness.” He continued: “The policemen who killed those people are not in custody, not even one of them.” In a statement, the Congress of South African Trade Unions (COSATU) said it was “absolutely outraged” by the prosecutor’s decision, adding it was concerned that the police and prosecutors were dealing with the 270 suspects “en masse” without assessing individual guilt or even identity. In an online commentary, South African legal expert Pierre de Vos described the charges “bizarre and shocking” and added they amounted to “a flagrant abuse of the criminal justice system, probably in an effort to protect the police and/or politicians.” Finally on Friday, South African Justice Minister Jeff Radebe joined the chorus of condemnation, saying the prosecutor’s decision had “induced a sense of shock, panic and confusion” in South Africa.

The NPA’s decision came hours after the publication of an investigation by Pulitzer Prize–winning South African photographer Greg Marinovich in which he suggested that at least 14 of the 34 dead miners had not been killed in the volley of automatic fire captured by television crews on Aug. 16. Marinovich’s pictures showed a series of gullies and passageways between a group of large boulders nearby where state forensic teams had marked the position of 14 bodies — gullies that, as Marinovich reported, seemed too narrow to allow for the possibility of anything but close-range executions. The journalist also quoted a number of eyewitnesses who corroborated his interpretation of events, saying that after the initial killings, police had moved into the boulders and shot or run over an indeterminate number of protesting miners.

(MORE: After Marikana, How Social Inequality Can Unravel South Africa’s Success)

With 25% unemployment, widespread poverty, inequality that has actually increased since apartheid, epidemic violent crime and the world’s biggest HIV/AIDS population — affecting 10% of South Africa’s population of 50 million — South Africa today is all too aware that what followed when Nelson Mandela and the ANC defeated apartheid in 1994 has turned out to be something of an anticlimax. But the Marikana massacre has laid bare in unprecedented and extraordinary fashion the depth of the failings of the ANC state. One legacy of Mandela’s righteousness and the ANC’s victory over white racism has been electoral invulnerability. The party has won five general elections in a row and as a result, its critics say, is immune to criticism or accountability and — thus untouchable — indulges itself in an orgy of self-enrichment and criminal arrogance. Until Marikana, many of those critics appeared to be hysterical maximalists or even apartheid apologists, refusing to see any good in the ANC and all too often lowering the national debate to little more than a shouting match between recidivist racists.

The state’s stunningly awful performance at Marikana — shooting protesters that it might have pacified with tear gas or rubber bullets; then the police’s insistence that it had done nothing wrong; then President Jacob Zuma’s careful avoidance of singling out anyone for blame; and now prosecutors’ contention that the miners somehow murdered themselves — suggests the ANC’s harshest critics may have been underestimating the problem. Whether South Africa’s outrage at events at Marikana eventually translates to the ballot box is an open question: the country is more than 18 months away from a fresh general election. But unless it does, or the ANC believes it might, South Africa will continue to exist in a kind of democratic twilight: a country where one of the world’s most progressive constitutions guarantees its citizens all the rights they could wish for on paper but where, without the disciplining effect of meaningful elections, that means grotesquely little in practice.

26 comments
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imagine_peace
imagine_peace

South Africa is a rich country; mining represents a big

chunk of that wealth.  Directors and mine

managers are indispensable for the well functioning of the mining industry, and

they are rewarded accordingly with splendid salaries and benefits.

 

That is the tip of the iceberg; the workers cracking the

rock are living in sub-human conditions. 

One out of three mine workers is HIV positive, they live in shacks with

no running water and sanitation…. their salaries are about 400 Euros

a month. 

 

To top up the problem, mining companies pay millions to the

government to guarantee local development, yet local government has proven

incapable to ensure that the money that is paid translates in to better

communities.  Black South Africans are tired;

the enemy is no longer so evident as it was during apartheid.  The reality of SA is the corrupt government,

driving in shiny cars, black brothers that have forgotten the ones that have

not been able to leave the townships.

HaraldG
HaraldG

I don't get it.  The miners prepared for the assault by getting muti (African magic) from a sangoma (witchdoctor) that would make them bulletproof against the police guns and then they attacked.  Unfortunately the muti failed (because they killed a rabbit they were not supposed to kill, according to the witchdoctor) and their assault on the police failed. Surely they intentially attacked  to kill the police.  Yet just as surely they never intended to kill their fellow bulletproof miners.  Can they be found guilty of felony murder for the muti failing to work its magic?  That seems a bit unfair.  If YOUR witchdoctor assured you that you and your 300 friends would be bulletproof in tomorrow's assault on the police, wouldn't you reasonably rely on him?

If you can't trust your witchdoctor, who can you trust? 

None of the miners were supposed to die.  All of the police were supposed to die.

Ramu Girdaree Jackpersad
Ramu Girdaree Jackpersad

Please stop talking crap. when you bring weapons then you are looking for trouble. they brought guns, machetes sticks and spears. now they also killed cops and security guards. Now my logic is when you bring weapons then you are looking for trouble, so stop talking shit and remember you negotiate with your mouth and at the table without looking for trouble. Ask for it and you get it, anywhere and everywhere. never fool around with any authority, unless you are a fool.

vegaviscount
vegaviscount

Black miners.  Black police.  Did anyone really expect a different world merely because blacks are in charge?

Ahra Ah
Ahra Ah

blacks are in charge ? its the corporates fully in charge!

vegaviscount
vegaviscount

With a black South African government amp; black police pulling the triggers.

Garzhad
Garzhad

No, and anyone that did is a moron. Power corrupts; the ANC got a taste of power and wealth and became that which they railed against for years.

The hands that strike them have gone from white to black; small consolation to the abused, but better black then white, right?

valmach
valmach

Apartheid , .. 150 years of racist colonialism, cooked and stewed to perfection.. Black Self hatred coupled with a pharmaceutical dis-ease is a potent weapon.. meanwhile - the white minority hands still deep in the till

HaraldG
HaraldG

Son, South Africa is ruled by Africans. The South African government makes hundreds of millions off the white folks by leasing them the mines. The Africans know they cannot run mines profitably and therefore lease out to the white folks who can. The folks they lease to are not domestic whites who actually built up the country, but foreign whites. The black rulers of SA like paying foreign whites to work for them.  They hate to work for SA whites.

Indietoo
Indietoo

Unbelievable. And such a startling co-incidence for me- was reading an article on the supposed turn around of human relations between management and workers in Lonmin in 2004-5, in the same week as this: here's the link...http://www.dawnmontgomerypresents.com...

Freeing a nation is not just about physical freedom- it is as much about political, social and economic equality- and here is where nations like SA and mine (India) have struggled...we gained obvious freedom 20/60 years ago- but our people are still waiting to experience real freedom...It's not the Utopian kind I refer to, but the kind where democracy works, where our politicians are accountable, where those who commit the crime- regardless of their station- are brought to book, where education and work opportunities exist for all. Is this too much to ask?

Paulo Sérgio Martins
Paulo Sérgio Martins

That's so true, India has social stratification (Caste System) which essentially traps certain classes of people at the bottom of the food chain. I think we're seeing that in South Africa as the inequality gap widens between have and have not. I find the events surrounding Lonmin to be extremely disturbing

Phoenix31756
Phoenix31756

Let's all hope, Obama hasn't read this otherwise he'll probably use the same law in our streets !

OPPS, I guess I let the cat out of the bag.........huh !

marcus broussard
marcus broussard

  I just like to understand how your comment can be associated with the incident in South Africa...corporations are ruling the roost worldwide and using glorified minnions to champion their cause...40 peices of silver cause a friend to sell out another friend knowing that the action was wrong...

HaraldG
HaraldG

South Africa blacks own the mines. they decide who to lease them to.  They could easily demand a nice living wage for each miner as the price for getting a lease.  The black rulers would have to settle for a tiny lease fee, however.  they don't want to settle. The black rulers want to make as much as they can off their countrymen's labor, however, so they can buy Mercedes Benz limos and beautiful town houses with piles of cheap servants. The miners know what is going on. They know the crooks are their own black rulers.  Don't be a chump and think otherwise.

Stephen Kliewer
Stephen Kliewer

Wow, I didn't know the Republicans were running South Africa

 

John Moore
John Moore

the government police defend millionaires and billionaires from citizens asking for a better life. romney is taking notes.

Andy Totenkopf
Andy Totenkopf

Sounds like Obama logic

marcus broussard
marcus broussard

Apparently Pres. Obama has rallied RACISM to crawl from underneath and rear its ugly head....He's to blame for all that everyone who pays attention knows it is not his mess he dealing with.

Movin OnDwn
Movin OnDwn

South Africa; third world Corporate State

 

Norman Bouchal
Norman Bouchal

I would go along with this prosecution if it follows logic and equal restraint guidelines. eg. Protester spits on Police - Police spits on Protester.  Protester uses baton on Police - Police use baton on Protester.  Protester shoots Police Dead - Police shoots Protester Dead.  Just saying...

Garzhad
Garzhad

 The protesters did brutally hack 2 officers to death, which I imagine prompted the rest to fire upon them. Charging the survivors with murder is just sheer lunacy, though.

Ahra Ah
Ahra Ah

2 officers hacked , if true and the police massacres the rest in cold blood. what a logic. 

We The Communists
We The Communists

What a rotten logic! 

Police first shot dead 34 miners who were striking for better living conditions.   Those who survived are now charged of the carnage unleashed by police.  If one extends this logic, Lonmin directors and Jacob Zuma too should be charged for this massacre.

Workers are being oppressed all over the world – economically, politically and now, physically as well.  Those who are protesting are being murdered shamelessly and are charged for their own murders.  Police could extend this logic to those who are wounded by firing and in hospital.  When the case reach court, police and Lonmin lawyers would argue that the person accused is guilty for trying to murder himself!  

Rotten logic, indeed!

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