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After South Africa police shot miners, miners charged with murder

August 30, 2012 |  6:04 pm

Mines

Two weeks after dozens of striking miners were shot dead by police in a bloody incident that shocked South Africans, state prosecutors have filed charges -- against fellow miners.

Authorities charged 270 miners with murder in the slayings of 34 colleagues under a controversial law often used under apartheid, South African media reported Thursday.

“It's the police who were shooting, but they were under attack by the protesters, who were armed, so today the 270 accused are charged with the murders” of those who were shot, National Prosecuting Authority spokesman Frank Lesenyego told the Associated Press.

The decision outraged many South Africans, who argued the law was being abused for political purposes. “Even if it was true that the miners provoked the police, this could never, ever, make them liable for the killing of their comrades,” University of Cape Town constitutional law expert Pierre de Vos wrote, calling the decision bizarre, shocking and shameful.

The charges lodged by prosecutors are so dubious that they are plainly political, he said. “They have acted with fear, favor and prejudice to advance some or another political agenda, further eroding the little trust South Africans might still have left in them,” De Vos concluded.

South African police have argued that they had no choice but to fire on the charging armed miners at the Lonmin platinum mine after lesser measures, such as tear gas and rubber bullets, failed to disperse them. The protesting miners had walked off the job to demand higher wages.

Julius Malema, the expelled president of the youth wing of the ruling African National Congress Party, told protesters outside a Pretoria court that the decision was “madness.”

"The policemen who killed those people are not in custody, not even one of them,” Malema was quoted by the South African Press Assn. as telling the infuriated crowd.

Under the “common purpose” doctrine, part of a “riotous assembly” act adopted in South Africa more than half a century ago, someone who incites or conspires with someone else to commit a crime is guilty of the same crime, as if they committed it themselves. The law was often used in the apartheid era to charge protest leaders for offenses carried out by protesters, De Vos wrote.

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-- Emily Alpert in Los Angeles

Photo: Mine workers attend a memorial service at the Lonmin platinum mine near Rustenburg, South Africa, on Aug. 23, 2012. Credit: Themba Hadebe / Associated Press

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