Murder charges stun and enrage South African miners – by Lydia Polgreen (The New York Times News Service/Globe and Mail – August 31, 2012)

The Globe and Mail is Canada’s national newspaper with the second largest broadsheet circulation in the country. It has enormous influence on Canada’s political and business elite.

Two weeks after the police opened fire on a crowd of 3,000 workers engaged in a wildcat strike at a platinum mine near Johannesburg, killing 34 people in the bloodiest labour unrest since the end of apartheid, prosecutors are bringing murder charges against a surprising set of suspects: the miners themselves.

Using an obscure legal doctrine frequently relied upon by the apartheid government in its dying days, prosecutors did not accuse the police officers who shot and killed the strikers as they surged forward, machetes in hand. Instead, officials said Thursday that they were pursuing murder charges against the 270 miners who were arrested after the dust settled and the shooting stopped.

It was the latest astonishing turn in a saga that has gripped South Africa, unleashing a torrent of rage over deepening inequality, poverty and unemployment.

The shootings have fed a growing sense of betrayal at the country’s governing party, the venerable African National Congress, many of whose senior members have joined a wealthy elite a world away from the downtrodden masses whose votes brought them to office at the end of apartheid in 1994. Now the prosecutors’ decision to charge the miners in the killings threatened to intensify that rift.

Frank Lesenyego, a spokesman for the National Prosecuting Authority, cited “34 counts of murder that have been laid against the 270 accused,” in connection with the killings of the miners on Aug. 16. He said they were being charged under a law known as “common purpose,” in which members of a crowd, when a crime is committed, can be prosecuted as accomplices.

It was unclear whether the charges were simply a legal manoeuvre to keep the miners, who have been in jail for two weeks, under lock and key, or if prosecutors were intent on pursuing the murder charge in court. Legal experts were quick to say that the charges were extreme.

“The charge is spurious,” said Pierre de Vos, a legal scholar at the University of Cape Town. “It will not fly. No court in South Africa on any set of facts will find the miners guilty through the common-purpose doctrine.”

Patrick Craven, a spokesman for the Congress of South African Trade Unions, blasted the murder charges.

“This is pure intimidation,” he said. “The lawyers must really be very stupid if they think these charges will stick. The notion that these miners are responsible for the deaths of their own fellow workers is absurd.”

Several thousand workers at a platinum mine, owned by the London-based Lonmin, went on strike earlier this month, demanding a raise.

For the rest of this article, please go to the Globe and Mail website: