On August 16, a stand-off between striking mineworkers and the police at the Lonmin Marikana mine in South Africa erupted in violence when the miners allegedly attacked the heavily armed police line with rocks and sticks. When the battle was over, 34 miners were dead, many of them shot in the back.
In a mind boggling act of insensitivity, surviving miners were ordered back to work by Lonmin before the bodies of their colleagues had even been buried. The miners, understandably, refused and as of today the mine is still operating with 8% of its workforce.
Now, the state is charging the 259 surviving miners with murder, while admitting than all of the deaths were actually at the hands of the police. SA law, you see, shares this legal peculiarity with many nations. “When people attack or confront [the police] and a shooting takes place which results in fatalities … suspects arrested, irrespective of whether they shot police members or the police shot them, are charged with murder.”
Before tsk tsking the deplorable fascism of the South African State, you should know that many nations (Canada, & the U.S. included) have similar laws. Anyone participating in a demonstration that appears to be spiralling into violence should remember that if a death results from the violence, even if its the result of an unstable cop firing into the crowd in “self-defence”, they may find themselves unwittingly charged with murder.
In a bizarre twist, the National Prosecuting Authority has charged the 259 arrested Marikana miners with the murder of their 34 colleagues, shot dead by the police.
Frank Lesenyego, the NPA’s regional spokesman, yesterday confirmed that the miners had been charged with murder and not public violence as previously stated.
Asked to clarify the confusion – after police commissioner Riah Phiyega had earlier confirmed that the miners died after police shot at them with live ammunition – Lesenyego said: “It’s technical but, in legal [terms], when people attack or confront [the police] and a shooting takes place which results in fatalities … suspects arrested, irrespective of whether they shot police members or the police shot them, are charged with murder.”
On August 16, police shot dead 34 striking mineworkers at Lonmin’s Marikana mine in North West.
On the same day, the 259 workers were arrested for public violence. Another 78 were admitted to hospital.
The 259 miners appeared in Garankuwa Magistrate’s Court last week. The hearing was postponed to Monday to allow for further investigations.
The group returned to court on Monday and yesterday the hearing was postponed again because of a power failure. It has now also emerged that the police are investigating all cases of murder since August 12 when the illegal strike started.
The strike has led to a total of 44 deaths at the mine, including those of two policemen and two security guards.
On Monday, Brigadier Gideon van Zyl, head of detectives in North West, told the court that because of several disruptions to the investigation – including the memorial service that was held for the slain miners last week – the police were unable to finalise the verification of the miners’ residential addresses.
Prosecutor Nigel Carpenter said it was crucial that all addresses be verified before the miners are released because not doing so could lead to miners walking free as the police would not know their whereabouts.