Miners arrested at South Africa’s Marikana mine have been charged in court with the murder of 34 of their colleagues shot by police.
The decision to charge the miners comes under “common purpose law” used under the former apartheid regime, and it suggests President Jacob Zuma’s government wants to shift blame for the killings from police to the striking miners.
Police opened fire, killing 34 miners and sparking a national outcry.
The former ruling ANC party youth leader Julius Malema called the decision as “madness”.
“The whole world saw the policemen kill those people,” said Malema, who was expelled from the governing
African National Congress in April.
The killing of the 34 was the most deadly police action since South Africa became a democracy in 1994.
National Prosecuting Authority, spokesman Frank Lesenyego, told The Associated Press: “It’s the police who were shooting, but they were under attack by the protesters, who were armed, so today the 270 accused are charged with the murders” of those who were shot.
More than 150 of the arrested miners have filed complaints that they have been beaten up in police cells by officers, the Independent Police Complaints Directorate reported earlier this week.
The strike, apparently rooted in rivalry between two trade unions, had rock drill operators demanding a minimum wage of $1,560 and complaining that their take-home pay was only about $688.
On August 16, police said they had failed to persuade the strikers to disarm and that it was “D-Day” to end the strike at the London-registered Lonmin PLC platinum mine.
That afternoon, striking miners armed with clubs, machetes and at least one gun allegedly charged at police, who opened fire, killing 34 and wounding at least 78.
Some survivors said many of the miners were fleeing police tear gas and water cannons when they were shot.
Police said they started shooting after being threatened by large groups of miners armed with machetes.
Ten people, including two police officers and two security guards, were killed during the protests before the police shooting.
The common purpose law being used to charge the miners was fought by the African National Congress (ANC) when it was a liberation movement, accusing the white minority government of using it to make victims of a crime its perpetrators.
The ANC has been in power for 18 years and the miserable living conditions of miners has highlighted its failure to transform the wealth of Africa’s richest nation into better lives for the majority of its 48 million citizens.