Last week a memorial service was held for 34 people killed during a strike at a South Africa platinum mine.
Now, 270 of the miners involved in that unrest, have been told they will face murder charges.
A law dating back to the apartheid era is being used to prosecute them.
Host Marco Werman talks with reporter Anders Kelto in Cape Town.
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Marco Werman: I’m Marco Werman. This is The World. In South Africa murder charges had just been filed in the case of 34 people shot dead by police earlier this month during a strike at a platinum mine. But in an unexpected twist in the case the people accused of murder are not the police who fired their weapons, but 270 of the miners involved in the unrest. Prosecutors are using a law that dates back to the apartheid era saying that the miners provoked the police. Public reaction to the charges has led the South African justice minister to demand an explanation. The World’s Anders Kelto is in Cape Town. What has been the reaction on this?
Anders Kelto: People are really angry, Marco. There’s a huge sense of disbelief and some people even find the situation laughable. Probably the most vocal critic of President Jacob Zuma through all of this, and of the police, has been to Julius Malema, the former president of the ANC Youth League, who had this to say.
Julius Malema: The police who actually killed those people, none of them is inside. Not even a single police man is arrested, which is a madness.
Werman: Now, tell us what the law is that’s being used to charge the miners in such a controversial way. It goes back to the apartheid era?
Kelto: It is based on something known as the Common Purpose doctrine. It’s pretty famous or infamous here in South Africa. It’s basically a doctrine used to persecute people who opposed apartheid. So anti-apartheid activists who weren’t even directly involved in certain crimes could still be prosecuted for those crimes just by virtue of their being part of a group. But there’s a very tragic irony to this, of course, which is that the party of Nelson Mandela, which freed South Africa from apartheid is now using this same apartheid era law to accuse poor black miners of murder. And that is what has people so upset.
Werman: How is this expected to unfold in the coming weeks?
Kelto: Because the National Prosecuting Authority brought these charges, the 270 miners who were arrested are being held in jail until next week when they will have their bail hearing. So those miners will be in custody for at least one more week. Meanwhile the President of South Africa, Jacob Zuma, has appointed an independent commission to investigate the shooting. They are expected to deliver a report within about five months. So it’s probably going to be some time before we know what actually happened.
Werman: And how is mining production across South Africa affected by all the labor unrest right now?
Kelto: What’s important to notice is that this is not an isolated incident. There have been other mines that have been shut down and platinum production has slowed. This mine, the Lonmin mine in Marikana, has been shut down for nearly 3 weeks now and unions and the mine owners are going to reopen talks next week to see if they can come to common ground and get production up and running again. But there is a lot of unrest in mines all across the country still.
Werman: What do miners generally make? The men who are working in the platinum mine in Marikana, what kind of salary do they get?
Kelto: Most of them make roughly $5000 a year. Slightly above the average income for South Africans. They’re low-paying jobs and they’re inglorious jobs. A lot of these miners live in these shantytowns a few hundred yards from the entrances to the mines. It’s hard to carve out a living. They’ve been asking for 2 to 3 times the salary that they’re currently making, which obviously would be a huge increase. But even at that increase they certainly wouldn’t be living large.
Werman: Not a glorious life at all. The World’s Anders Kelto in Cape Town. Thank you very much.
Kelto: Thank you, Marco.
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