U-turn on striking South African miners accused of killing colleagues
SOUTH AFRICAN prosecutors have reversed a decision to charge 270 striking miners with the murders of their colleagues after an outcry from politicians and human rights groups in the country.
They also announced yesterday that the arrested miners will be released until police complete their investigations, having spent 17 days in custody and laid claims that they have been tortured by officers.
Nomgcobo Jiba, the acting national director of prosecutions, insisted her officials had sufficient evidence to back up the murder charges – which were brought under an apartheid-era “common purpose” law which attributes collective responsibility for a fatally dangerous act.
But she said that she had decided to postpone criminal charges until the police investigation and a public inquiry into what happened had been completed.
“The murder charges against the current 270 suspects, which were provisional anyway, will be formally withdrawn in court,” she said.
“The miners are to be released conditionally on warning and their cases postponed pending the finalisations of investigations including investigations by the commission [of inquiry].”
The announcement on Thursday by the national prosecuting authority that the 270 arrested miners would be held responsible for the deaths of 34 of their colleagues at the Lonmin-owned Marikana platinum mine on 16 August, prompted outrage in South Africa.
It came despite an admission by Riah Phiyega, the police commissioner, that her officers had opened fire on the miners with live ammunition after they failed to respond to repeated requests to stand down. No officers have yet been charged for the shootings.
On Friday, as the outcry grew over the decision, and there were calls for Miss Jiba to be sacked. ANC treasurer-general Mathews Phosa also spoke out against the organisation, warning that its move could lead to “another Marikana”.
“Charging some of [the miners] in the face of a commission of inquiry is contrary to the sub judice rule, reckless, incongruous and almost absurd,” he said.
Lawyers for the miners wrote to president Jacob Zuma urging him to intervene, and order the release of their clients by lunchtime on Sunday or face an urgent High Court application.
President Zuma responded by saying that he would not get involved in the workings of South Africa’s “constitutional democracy”. His spokesman said the president was waiting for the findings of the public inquiry, which is due to report back in four months.
Yesterday’s announcement by the NPA that it too would wait for the findings of the public inquiry before attempting criminal prosecutions was broadly welcomed. Patrick Craven, spokesman for the Congress of South African Trade Unions, which represents Lonmin miners, said it put to bed a “traumatic episode for the whole of South Africa but particularly for those arrested workers”.
“The NPA has bowed to the overwhelming view of everybody that this was a total mistake,” he said.
Jeff Mphahlele, the general secretary of the Amcu union which represented the 3,000 rock drillers who began the Lonmin strike on August 10, said the release of their colleagues would bring “goodwill” to negotiations for their return to work.
“One hurdle has been jumped,” he said. “This will normalise the situation a little.”
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Wednesday 19 June 2013
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