South African prosecutors on Thursday charged 270 mine workers with the murder of 34 striking colleagues shot dead by police, in a decision panned as “madness.”
Police said they acted in self-defense when they opened fire on workers at a platinum mine outside Rustenburg, northwest of Johannesburg, killing 34, after a stand-off that had already killed 10, including two police officers.
“The court today charged all the workers with murder, under the common purpose law,” prosecutor’s office spokesman Frank Lesenyego said.
He did not give details saying they would be revealed in court next week.
Julius Malema, a former youth leader with the ruling African National Congress Party (ANC), said: “That is madness. The whole world saw police kill those workers. The policemen who killed those miners are not in custody.”
A legal expert also questioned the decision to lay charges.
“In charging the miners for the death of miners killed by the police, I don’t see how common purpose doctrine could be used here,” said Vincent Nmehille, a law professor at the University of the Witwatersrand.
Meanwhile, talks to end the three-week strike continued with mine owners Lonmin and mediators optimistic about a solution.
“I think today will be the deciding day in terms of the way forward. I think it’s D-Day,” mediator Bishop Jo Seoka from the South African Council of Churches told reporters.
Lonmin spokeswoman Sue Vey said the government mediation was very constructive.
The company wants a “peace accord” sealed before starting negotiations on workers’ wage demands. However, workers, who say they earn 4,000 rand (US$470) a month and want 12,500 rand, insist they will not go back underground until their demands are met.
Representatives of big player the National Union of Mineworkers and the smaller Association of Mineworkers and Construction Union, whose bitter rivalry has been blamed for the unrest at the mine, are also at the talks.
A strike leader, Zolisa Bodlani, told workers gathered near where police shot dead their colleagues that wages would be discussed.
As the deadlock approached its fourth week, worker attendance slid even further with only 6.6 percent of the 28,000-strong workforce reporting for duty on Thursday.
South African Minister of Mining Susan Shabangu has meanwhile tried to calm investors worried about the paralyzed operations at the mine that accounts for about 92 percent of Lonmin’s annual output.