Expatica news

S.Africa frees first batch of miners arrested for killings

A South African court on Monday freed the first batch of 270 miners arrested for the killing of 34 fellow workers who were gunned down by police in a wildcat strike last month.

The court granted the release after prosecutors provisionally withdrew the murder charges amid public outrage following the bloodshed at Lonmin’s Marikana mine in the worst day of police violence in post-apartheid South Africa.

“The murder charges against the accused are at this point of time withdrawn,” said Magistrate Esau Bodigelo as he released 47 miners in the court north of Pretoria. “You may stand down,” he added as applause broke out in the courtroom.

The freed workers sang and danced as they left the court while 10 minibuses readied to take them back to Marikana where celebrations awaited.

“I’m going home now. I’m going to find my family in Marikana,” Siyabulela Milo, 32, told AFP.

The Marikana shooting, shocking footage of which was beamed around the world, conjured up images of apartheid-era police violence and cast the spotlight on crippling social inequality in South Africa.

Meanwhile, police said four people had been injured in a shooting at a gold mine in the east of Johannesburg, and a stayaway by 12,000 workers continued at another gold mine in the west of the city.

“We can confirm that there were four people who were taken to the hospital after they were injured,” police spokeswoman Captain Pinky Tsinyane told AFP.

The violence erupted after fired workers, armed with traditional sticks and iron irods, gathered on Monday at the Gold One mine from which they had been fired during an illegal stayaway in June and attacked reinstated miners.

Four people were arrested for attempted murder.

The shooting follows the deadly police action at the Lonmin mine northwest of Johannesburg on August 16 during a wildcat strike. Earlier violence left ten people dead, including two police officers who were hacked to death.

The decision to charge the miners with murder triggered outrage over what in fact was a police crackdown, with South Africa’s justice minister demanding that prosecutors explain the charges.

Speaking Sunday, acting national director of prosecutions Nomgcobo Jiba said a final decision on whether to press murder charges would be taken after a series of investigations into the shootings.

These include a judicial commission of inquiry appointed by President Jacob Zuma, which has until January to present its findings.

The releases are being processed in batches, after the miners’ addresses have been verified by police, with no bail required.

But the group will return to court on 12 February 2013 on charges of public violence and holding an illegal gathering.

The strike since August 10 has cripped the world’s third largest platinum mine where worker turnout slumped to 4.5 percent on Monday, amid threats from strikers on returning workers.

“An indefinite strike will ultimately threaten the jobs of more than 40,000 workers,” the company said in a statement.

“We cannot go on indefinitely without normalising operations and still escape the consequences of the mine not being operational.”

Legal experts had slammed the murder charges, which the prosecuting agency argued were under a common purpose principle that allows a group of people to be charged for acting together to commit a criminal act.

It was once used by the apartheid-era white-minority regime to crack down on black activists who were fighting for equality.

Minister in the presidency, Collins Chabane denied the government played a part in the about-turn.

“The government did not at any stage try to pressurise the NPA people to take a decision,” he told foreign correspondents.

Police claimed self-defence in the shooting, after an escalating stand-off between rival unions had already turned deadly during an increasingly bitter strike over pay.

The striking miners, who say they currently earn 4,000 rand a month (around 375 euros or $475), have refused to return unless they get a wage increase to 12,500 rand.

Lonmin says the workers already earn around 10,000 rand when bonuses and other compensation are included.