SOUTH AFRICAN prosecutors yesterday ‘provisionally’ dropped murder charges against 270 miners, 34 of whose colleagues were shot dead by police last month.
Many of the dead miners were shot in the back as they ran away from the armed police, but 270 of their their comrades, some of whom had also been shot, had been charged with their murder.
The charges have not been dismissed, but prosecutors claimed yesterday that all detained miners would be freed, although they warned they could be recharged when investigations are complete.
‘Final charges will only be made once all investigations have been completed. The murder charges against the current 270 suspects will be formally withdrawn provisionally in court,’ Nomgcobo Jiba, acting national director of prosecutions said.
Local authorities accused the miners of provoking police to open fire and state prosecutors charged the 270 miners with murder under the ‘common purpose’ apartheid-era law.
The law was used by the apartheid regime against its black opponents and at the time was opposed by the now governing African National Congress.
The 270 miners, six of whom remain in hospital, were arrested whilst on strike and were charged last Thursday, with the prosecutors claiming they were part of a crowd whose actions provoked the police into opening fire. No police officers have been charged over the deaths.
Lawyers for the 270 accused miners had written to Jacob Zuma demanding that they be freed by 13.00 (11.00 GMT) yesterday, but he said in a statement earlier that he would not do so.
Meanwhile, talks to end the strike at Lonmin resume today after the weekend funerals for over 30 of the workers killed by the police.
Lonmin rock drill operator members of the Association of Mineworkers and Construction Union (AMCU) began their strike on August 10, demanding an increase in their basic monthly pay to 12,500 rand ($1,500), with other workers also on strike.
It is not clear who will take part in today’s talks, with AMCU leaders saying they have been sidelined and that they will only attend if they are invited.
Workers have sent their own delegates for negotiations and it is not always clear which union they represent, if any.
London-based Lonmin (formerly Lonrho) has warned it is likely to breach debt covenants this month and may have to issue new shares to shore up its balance sheet.
The company’s share price has fallen about 40 per cent, with most of the collapse occurring since the strike began.
The strike action which began at Lonmin is spreading to the country’s deep gold mines.
Workers at a mine east of Johannesburg, run by junior producer Gold One, are set to strike today to demand higher wages, while managers at Gold Fields, the world’s fourth largest bullion producer, said last Friday that about 12,000 workers had embarked on an ‘illegal’ strike at the east section of its KDC mine in South Africa.