About 270 miners were charged with the murders of 34 striking colleagues who were shot by South African police officers. This development has further infuriated South Africans already shocked and angered by the police action. The decision to charge the miners comes under an arcane Roman-Dutch common purpose law used under the apartheid regime, and it suggests President Jacob Zuma’s government wants to shift blame for the killings from police to the striking miners.
National Prosecuting Authority spokesman Frank Lesenyego told reporters that “It’s the police who were shooting, but they were under attack by the protesters, who were armed, so the 270 accused are charged with the murders” of those who were shot.
More than 150 of the arrested miners have filed complaints that they have been beaten up in police cells by officers, the Independent Police Complaints Directorate reported. The strike, apparently rooted in rivalry between two trade unions, had rock drill operators demanding a minimum wage of 12,500 rand ($1,560) and complaining that their take-home pay was only about 5,500 rand ($688).
Some survivors said many of the miners were fleeing police tear gas and water cannons when they were shot. Police Commissioner Gen. Riah Phiyega has been criticized for saying her officers “did nothing wrong.” She said they acted in self-defense, using live bullets only after they were fired upon and had failed to stop a charge of miners with water cannons, stun grenades, tear gas and rubber bullets.