South Africa withdraws murder charges against miners – for now – by Susan Njanji (Globe and Mail – September 2, 2012)

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PRETORIA – Agence France-Presse – South Africa said Sunday that controversial murder charges against 270 miners over the deaths of fellow workers shot by police, the worst such clash since the apartheid era, will be provisionally dropped.

Following a public furor, acting national director of prosecutions Nomgcobo Jiba, said that after having sought an explanation from the department’s lead prosecutors, she had taken the decision to review the charge.

“The murder charge against the current 270 suspects, which was provisional anyway, will be formally withdrawn provisionally in court on their next court appearance,” Ms. Jiba told reporters.

A final decision on the charges will be taken after a series of investigations into the shootings, hich left 34 dead and 78 wounded, are complete. They include a judicial commission of inquiry appointed by President Jacob Zuma, which has until January to present its findings. Thursday’s decision to charge the miners over the August 16 killings during a wildcat strike at the Lonmin PLC platinum mine had triggered outrage.

The workers have been held in custody since they were arrested on the day of the shooting in Marikana, northwest of Johannesburg.

Courts will start releasing them from Monday after police verify their addresses. The first batch of at least 140 miners is due to be freed on Monday while the rest should go home on Thursday.

On Friday South Africa’s justice minister demanded the prosecutors explain why the arrested miners had been charged with murdering their colleagues, who had been shot dead by police.

Lawyers for the miners have argued that their detention is unlawful and in an open letter to Mr. Zuma have called for their release.

The president however has refused to act on their demand, arguing that would be interfere with the work of the judiciary.

Ms. Jiba defended the initial use of the law with which the miners had been charged.

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