South Africa?s justice minister demanded Friday that prosecutors explain why 270 miners have been charged with murdering 34 colleagues shot dead by police in a move widely denounced by legal experts.
The National Prosecuting Authority (NPA) charged the workers on Thursday, based on a rule used by the former apartheid regime, for the shooting two weeks ago at the Lonmin platinum mine that shocked the world.
?There is no doubt that the NPA?s decision has induced a sense of shock, panic and confusion within the members of the community and the general South African public,? said Justice Minister Jeff Radebe.
?It is therefore incumbent upon me to seek clarity on the basis upon which such a decision is taken,? he said.
Radebe has demanded a report from the national director of public prosecutions to explain the rationale behind Thursday?s decision over the August 16 shooting, the worst day of police violence in South Africa since the end of white-minority apartheid rule in 1994.
Police claimed self-defence in the shooting, after an escalating standoff between rival unions had already killed 10 people including two police officers during an increasingly bitter strike over pay at Lonmin?s Marikana mine.
NPA spokesman Frank Lesenyego told the media it was normal procedure to charge those arrested during a confrontation with police when fatalities resulted.
No police officer has been charged.
Radebe?s comments come on the eve of funerals Saturday for many of the workers killed at the Marikana mine, which lies outside Rustenburg, northwest of Johannesburg, and remains shut after the failure of talks to end the strike.
?My view is that this decision to prosecute (the miners) is premature, it?s outrageous actually,? said Stephen Tuson, an attorney at the Wits Law Clinic in Johannesburg.
The apartheid era common purpose rule which prosecutors are apparently basing their decision on would be hard to prove, the legal experts said.
?There?s nothing unconstitutional or irregular or unfair about the rule, it?s a necessary rule in crowd violence situations,? said Tuson.
But ?it?s the application in this particular case which is suspect. It was clearly the wrong decision, it?s inflammatory, it?s provocative. There?s no evidence to support it.?
Constitutional law expert Pierre De Vos said there was no basis for charges under a 1956 apartheid incitement act or the common purpose doctrine which has its roots in British colonial law. Both were used during the apartheid regime.
?Unless what we saw on our TV screens never happened or unless the NPA is hiding shocking and bizarre conspiracy theory-type evidence from us that places the events we saw on television in an entirely different light, there could be no possible valid reason,? he wrote on his blog.
A columnist in the online edition of The New Age newspaper, whose owners are linked to the ruling ANC, said the charges were a desperate move but also a concession ?that the way the apartheid government applied laws to deal with opponents deserves to be emulated?.
Meanwhile, talks between Lonmin and workers and unions seeking a ?peace accord? have been postponed to Monday after two days of government mediated negotiations failed to broker a deal at Marikana.
?We can?t say that we are happy with the progress so far. The employer has not made any wage offer, all they want is for the workers to simply return to work,? said Zolani Bodlani, a representative of the workers.
The striking miners want a wage increase from 4,000 rand a month to 12,500 rand (1,181 euros, $1,477).
Lonmin, the world?s number three platinum producer, says the workers already earn around 10,000 rand when bonuses and other compensation are included.
?We have no faith in the talks, they are just a distraction to make Lonmin appear as if they are doing something,? Joseph Mathunjwa, leader of the Association of Mineworkers and Construction Union told reporters.
?There is no tangible offer that the employer has made to try and address the cause of the strike, which is the issue of the wages.?
Source : AFP