1 Sep 2012

South African minister demands answers on murder charge

5:41 pm on 1 September 2012

South African justice minister Jeff Radebe has asked prosecutors to explain why 270 miners have been charged with the murder of 34 of their colleagues who were shot dead by the police.

The shootings followed protests on 16 August over pay at the Marikana mine owned by Lonmin, the world's third largest platinum producer.

State prosecutors charged the miners under the apartheid-era common purpose doctrine, a decision condemned by constitutional lawyers, the BBC reports.

Mr Radebe said the decision had induced a sense of shock, panic and confusion among South Africans.

In a statement, he said the justice minister had constitutional responsibility over the prosecuting authority and demanded a report explaining the rationale behind the decision.

Police said they opened fire after being threatened by a crowd of protesters who advanced towards them, armed with machetes.

The 270 miners, six of whom remain in hospital, were arrested during the protests.

They were charged on Thursday, with the prosecutors arguing they were part of the crowd whose actions provoked the police into opening fire.