South Africa: Marikana massacre survivors charged with murder

Another one to file under "Orwell would shit." From BBC News, Aug. 30:

Workers arrested at South Africa's Marikana mine have been charged in court with the murder of 34 of their colleagues shot by police.

The 270 workers would be tried under the "common purpose" doctrine because they were in the crowd which confronted police on 16 August, an official said.

Police opened fire, killing 34 miners and sparking a national outcry.

The decision to charge the workers was "madness", said former ruling ANC party youth leader Julius Malema.

"The policemen who killed those people are not in custody, not even one of them. This is madness," said Mr Malema, who was expelled from the ANC (African National Congress) earlier this year following a series of disagreements with President Jacob Zuma.

"The whole world saw the policemen kill those people," Mr Malema said, adding that he would ask defence lawyers to make an urgent application at the high court.

Johannesburg's Mail & Guardian adds:

The "common purpose" doctrine was used by former apartheid forces against black activists fighting against National Party rule…

The best known case was that of the "Upington 14", who were sentenced to death in 1989 for the murder of a policeman in 1985.

Here's how the AP reported the overturning of convictions in the Upington 14 case on May 30, 1991:

The country's highest court today overturned the death sentences of 14 blacks convicted of murder in the 1985 killing of a policeman.

Three judges on the appeal court in the central city of Bloemfontein ordered 11 of the so-called Upington 14 released today. Murder convictions for the other three were upheld, and they received prison terms ranging from 8 to 12 years.

The case has drawn international attention from anti-apartheid campaigners. They argued that defendants did not deserve murder convictions simply because they were part of an angry crowd that stoned and burned to death a police officer, Lucas Sethwala, near the northwest town of Upington, on Nov. 13, 1985.

Those convicted include Evelina de Bruin, a grandmother who was the only woman on death row in South Africa. Her conviction was changed from murder to public violence and she was freed.

"One is just thrilled that justice, in a sense, has been done," said Archbishop Desmond M. Tutu, the anti-apartheid campaigner and Nobel Peace laureate. "It just shows how scandalous the judgment was."

South Africa has abolished the death penalty, so those accused in the Marikana massacre won't face that. But the current case is nonetheless more Orwellian than that of the Upington 14. The accused are being charged with violence that they themselves were the victims of. Meet the New Boss, indeed…


  1. The New Boss in South Africa
    The New York Times on Aug. 31 notes that Cyril Ramaphosa, who led the South African miners’ strike in 1987, is today on the board of Lonmin, the company implicated in the massacre. File under “How far they fall”…

  2. Murder charges dropped against Marikana miners
    Some good news. But note that there are still no charges against the police. Ostensibly, this is pending the outcome of an investigation, but note that prosecutors didn’t wait for an investigation to bring charges against the miners. They now have dropped these, probably in reaction to the global outcry. From our friends at Jurist, Sept. 3:

    A South African prosecutor on Monday announced that the government had withdrawn murder charges against 270 miners who were participating in a strike when police officers shot and killed 34 participants. The miners were charged with murder last week under an old South African law that deems the striking miners as complicit in their co-workers’ deaths. Acting national director of prosecutions Nomgcobo Jiba said that her office withdrew the murder charges on Sunday, but noted that the charges could be reintroduced if the investigation revealed further evidence. Charges for violence are still being pursued against several of the miners. Police said that they fired on the strike after the crowd began advancing toward them with weapons. The government has said no charges will be filed against the police until an investigation is conducted.

  3. Labor unrest spreads in South Africa mineral sector
    Police and security guards fired rubber bullets and tear gas at sacked miners who have been blocking the entrance to the Gold One mine outside Johannesburg Sept. 4. Four people were wounded and 13 arrested in the confrontation. Gold One International Ltd said about 60 workers at its Modder East facility were fired after going on a wildcat strike. (Al Jazeera, Sept. 4; IOL, Sept. 3)

  4. ANC rejects mine nationalization

    South Africa’s ruling African National Congress (ANC) closed its five-day leadership conference in Bloemfontein Dec. 20, retaining President Jacob Zuma as its leader and rejecting a proposal for mine nationalization. “The issue of nationalization as we have discussed it over the last few months is off the table,” Malusi Gigaba, the minister for public enterprises, said while announcing the decision. The rejection is a major defeat for the party’s left, and caps a concerted effort by leadership to firm up its pro-business credentials. (Al Jazeera, Dec. 20)