South Africa’s Justice Minister Questions Charges Against Miners

Posted August 31st, 2012 at 1:30 pm (UTC-5)
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South Africa's justice minister is demanding that prosecutors explain why striking miners are being charged with the murder of 34 fellow workers who by all accounts were shot by police.

Minister Jeff Radebe issued the demand Friday, saying the decision by South Africa's National Prosecuting Authority induced a sense of “shock, panic and confusion.”

The prosecutors charged the 270 miners on Thursday, using an obscure statute called the “common purpose law,” under which people in a crowd where a crime was committed can be charged as accomplices.

Under the apartheid-era law, the miners can be blamed for the deaths even though police did the shooting in the August 16 incident.

Prosecutors say police were forced to shoot at the miners because the strikers were attacking officers with machetes and clubs. Police say the miners had fired at least one gun.

Workers at the platinum mine near Johannesburg went on strike earlier in August for more pay. The shooting incident was preceded by clashes in which 10 people, including two police officers, were killed.

During the late apartheid era, the common purpose law was used by South Africa's white minority government to criminalize the actions of protesters.

The law has not been used since the end of apartheid nearly 20 years ago, and its revival has drawn strong criticism in South Africa.