Miners to be charged with murder after police kill 34 (Update: charges to be dropped)

Two weeks ago, police in South Africa shot dead 34 striking miners at a protest. Now, some of those who remain will be charged with their colleagues' murder. [BBC]

National Prosecuting Authority (NPA) spokesman Frank Lesenyego said they would all face murder charges - including those who were unarmed or were at the back of the crowd.

"This is under common law, where people are charged with common purpose in a situation where there are suspects with guns or any weapons and they confront or attack the police and a shooting takes place and there are fatalities," he said.

Update: "South African prosecutors have provisionally dropped murder charges against 270 miners whose colleagues were shot dead by police."


    1. It makes perfect sense, if you accept the premise that the police are a divinely infallible force of justice and fairness, incapable of mistakes or wrongdoing.

      If the police had to shoot at the miners, that means the miners must have been doing something so terrible that the cops were forced to (reluctantly, I’m sure!) fire on the crowd.  Therefore, the unruly miners are completely and solely to blame for the fate of their comrades.

      I know it sounds insane, but that premise has been very effective at justifying police and military violence all over the world.  It is invoked so constantly that we barely notice it.  This is just an especially twisted example.

      1. Also, I’m pretty sure we have exactly this sort of rule in the US as well, though it probably wouldn’t hold up in general protesting… UNLESS they were protesting in an unauthorized space, like trespassing on corporate property or something. Since they would then be involved in the commission of a crime, they can be found guilty of any deaths caused by police in response to that.

        So if this was an illegal protest, for whatever reason… it’s certainly within the bounds of the law fo the same charges to be leveled in the same situation in the US.

        1. That’s just not accurate. I know that it would be ideologically satisfying if it were, but it isn’t the way the rule works in the U.S.

          1. Some states have a law called Felony Murder in which you can be charged with murder if anyone is killed while you’re committing a felony, even if the killing was done by the police.  There have been a number of high-profile cases.

          2. Fortunately, protesting in the US is not a felony, so that law wouldn’t apply. (Responding to Antinous)

          3. But if one person in a crowd of thousands committed a felony related to the protest, they could use that law. Joe Arpaio would do it.

        2.  What’s sad, is that I read the headline and assumed it was in the US, and was surprised it was South Africa.

      1. y’know I was thinking the same thing.  Then I sorta thought that water cannon may not be an ideal African solution, in some areas anyway.  And if the weather’s not right tear gas just blows away, it’s better for getting people out of buildings.  Nevertheless, there are other non-lethal solutions.  Such as NOT shooting randomly into the crowd…

  1. What? WTF? I kill your buddy and you’re going to jail for that? Is it illegal to survive a massacre or something?

    1.  “The police protect the villains because the villains know the law.” – The Jazz Butcher

  2. Police killing people and the survivors get charged with murder. Hmm, It must be a day ending in Y.

  3. The question is not whether it makes sense to charge them (it doesn’t).  The question is what burden of proof will be needed to convict them of sharing the common purpose of recklessly throwing themselves onto police bullets.

  4. What a perverse use of what is essentially the felony murder rule. If people with “any weapon” “confront the police” and the police decide to start blazing away into the crowd, the entire crowd is guilty for the results of the actions of the police.

    Just wow.

        1. Actually.

          Being a South African, I have some insight into our justice system. I’ve bothered to follow this case while I’m pretty sure you just read the summary.  

          EDIT: Can’t respond to the comment below. An empty statement in my opinion though. Why shouldn’t I have faith? Justify your stance and I’ll respond/

          1. Yes. At this moment how could one possible lack faith in the South African justice system? How unreasonable.

      1. In fairness, yes. I did use convicted too loosely. I stand by the perversity of the application though.

      1. So if I’m driving the getaway car and you go in and shoot up a bank, it’s “perverse” that I can be charged in the murder?  That’s the sort of place it gets used.  Sure, like anything, it can stretch beyond all legal and moral sense (here, just for instance).  But it’s one of the most sensible things ever to develop at common law.

        1. Really, one of “the most sensible things ever?” How about charging someone with driving a getaway car?

        2. “So if I’m driving the getaway car and you go in and shoot up a bank, it’s “perverse” that I can be charged in the murder?”

          In my opinion, yes.  I’d be willing to make allowances for charging you with murder only if prior knowledge and intent can be established.  But if you didn’t know your partner was going to go apeshit inside the bank, you shouldn’t be charged with going apeshit yourself.

    1. No. It’s a case of you were in a group that contained a person that punched the police so we’re going to charge all of you until we know all the details.

      1. If any of the strikers had shot and killed any of the police, the rule might apply. 

        But the news article sounds like the police were the only ones who did any killing.  If that’s incorrect, it would be an important thing to add to the news article.

        1. The whole indecent is currently being mangled. There are conflicting reports from different sources and people are just generally raging in favor of their perception of the indecent.

          The fact that two officers and two guards where hacked to death the previous day by the same protestors seams to largely forgotten. As is the fact that shots where fired (believe at least 5 pistols where recovered) at the police. Whether the shots where fired before or after is at the core of the problem we are facing.

          To me the actions of the police was to say the least, excessive and brutal. But I have been in such a situation myself. And a 100+ strong mob brandishing machetes and short-spears isn’t exactly a tea-party. We will have see what happens next.

  5. I’m glad when apartheid ended SA didn’t just keep traipsing down the road of oppression and injustice.

    1. The inalienable human right to be oppressed by an increasingly kleptocratic and dubiously competent government of one’s own skin color shall not be infringed…

    2. I honestly hope you’re being sarcastic, because even though I would never in my life want apartheid to return, people are now far, far worse off than they have ever been. They are less safe, they are poorer, they are hungrier and the whole state system is failing as far as service delivery and maintenance of infrastructure is concerned. And it’s getting worse by the day…

      EDIT: And this is ALL people of all races, colours and sexual orientation and whatever else is being used to determine to which group you belong.

  6. As a South African, Those BBC reports are fairly incomplete…The whole situation is a bit of a mess though with most of the facts unpublished and rumours running wild. The general consensus is that the conflict was far more brutal than reported.

      1. Deaths on both sides prior to the shooting. It’s a lot more complex than just shooting rowdy protesters.

    1. By who? The Fox News of SA? The CNN? Honestly, BBC isn’t known for being either incomplete or letting bias get into their reporting. I personally don’t trust NPR, FOX, CNN or any other new services except BBC and Al Jazeera English. Too much un-addressed subtext.

      1. “BBC isn’t known for being either incomplete or letting bias get into their reporting.”

        Yes they are, at least in regards to anything involving Israel.

    1. Do you mean the BBC, which is pretty much Main Stream Media for much of the world?  Or USA Today?  Or the Telegraph?  So far the Washington Post only has it in blog coverage, but it appears to be fairly breaking news, and the US newspapers are mostly covering a big circus this week (or as the people who use the term “MSM” call it, the Republican National Convention or #RNCpowergrab), and most of the US coverage of international events yesterday was about Syria.

      1. MSM was very slow to pick up on this, which had all kinds of labor activists and reporters very (justifiably) angry, considering it was a massacre.

  7. Don’t be idiots. The police are people too. 

    An Al-Jazeera report clearly shows a miner emerge from a pod of strikers that was moving towards the blockade and fire shots first.  The police (people) retaliated with a volley that lasted seconds. 


    The strikers who fired on police (a small percentage) are responsible for the deaths. Everybody involved will be charged (not convicted) until it’s sorted out.

    The South African  justice system although overwhelmed isn’t useless!  Don’t just be anti-police because they carry guns, they’re public servants too and they deserve our gratitude.

    1. Yes, people that are generally hired to protect the public, even at risk to their own life. This generally doesn’t involve killing bystanders, which seems to be part of the issue here.

      If we’re going to charge everyone and sort it out later, and really want to be thorough, we should investigate all of the people involved in the deaths, right? Including the police (people).

      No idea if that will happen here, but generally it doesn’t.

      1. Literally the 3rd line of the article.

        “Police have not been charged because a commission of inquiry would investigate their actions, the official said.”

    2. The systemic failure is *charging* everyone, rather than investigating and charging those thought to be responsible. I don’t know if South Africa has a concept of double jeopardy, but assuming it does, the overbroad charging is a failure because (a) truly non-culpable parties should not be put in jeopardy of going to prison so the courts can “sort it out” and (b) rushing to charge and try people before the state is ready could very easily lead to acquittals for people who are guilty.

      1. An article on the BBC said something interesting.  Someone felt this was being done just to defuse the tension at the mines by physically removing them.  Right now they are blocking the mine to protest the massacre.  They probably will end up releasing the vast majority of the protesters in the end.

    3. The footage does not clearly show a miner firing first.  Granted it does show a blurred figure with what appears to be some kind of handgun; I can’t tell whether he was a miner or not. ( In fact, I also can’t tell whether he was a planted informant or agent provocateur.  But I’m sure he wasn’t, cos that would never happen.  I mean, it happened here in Northern Ireland, but I’m sure it would never happen anywhere else…)

      The response of the police was utterly inappropriate.  I understand your argument above that people have been charged and not convicted, but what trial will the dead get?

      1. I’m not sure I buy the agent provocateur argument simply because it was so suicidal.  I guess it’s not that much different than suicide bombing, but I’m still leaning more towards crazy guy with gun at a protest doing something really stupid and the cops responding with excessive force. 

        1. oh, I agree, I don’t think it was an agent provocateur (not that I don’t think that would take a special type of personality which may be verging on apparently suicidal).  I’m just saying that the footage does not clearly show a “miner” doing anything, as Brett has asserted.  The footage clearly shows a blob doing something.

    4. Similar event happened in Lexington/Concord in 1775.  Police got out of there better than the Redcoats did though.

      1. I think you have this confused with the incident in Boston five years earlier.

        The Lexington/Concord incident was, to put it in modern terms; a police-action to proactively disarm militants/insurgents by doing house-to-house searches to confiscate all military-grade smallarms and disabling one (privately-owned) artillery piece.

    5. If the police are there to break up a miner’s strike, they’re not serving the public, they’re serving the government and the mine owners. 

      At least when the US military and private police forces attacked striking miners in the early 20th century, they didn’t charge the people they’d shot with murder.

      1. Except after the Ludlow Massacre. And the Verona Massacre. And probably some other cases I can’t quite remember just yet. And they killed a former governor of Idaho and tried to frame union organizers.

    6. The strikers who fired on police (a small percentage) are responsible for the deaths.

      I think the responsibility lies with the company and the corrupt state that exploits the workers, and allows such desperate conditions and pitiful wages. Humans will very peacefully do a lot of miserable, dangerous, and slave wage work before they’re finally pushed to clash with militarized police over it.

      1. Well, granted that South Africa isn’t the United States of America, this action is perfectly justifiable if you combine the twisted pretzel logic that led to both the “Citizens United” and “Kelo v. City of New London” Supreme Court rulings: A corporate “person” that is the corporation that runs the mine, pays more taxes, and as a result; has more rights than the non-corporate “persons” I.E. the striking miners, because they pay less in taxes. These non-corporate “persons” are 2nd-class tax-revenue generators, are actively impeding the mine’s operation, thereby preventing the mine from generating revenue for the corporate “person” that runs the mine which results in a net loss in tax revenue for the state…

        …therefore; the state MUST step in to stop these non-corporate “2nd-class persons” from disrupting the mine’s operation, with deadly force, if necessary.

        1. With demonization of labor, and increasing militarized police forces and heavy handed tactics it’s only a matter of time before this happens to strikers/protesters in the U.S. …………………….again.

  8. I feel like we’re missing some information here. “I killed your friend, you’re going to jail because you were with him and you made me do it” just doesn’t seem right, unless South Africa is completely fucked up.

    1. Hardly. All the people that were in the pod of strikers that fired on the police which caused the police response which killed strikers are being charged. That makes sense to me.

      Bring them all in and find out who is responsible

      1. So your saying it is correct to charge innocent people with murder because it will get sorted out later, and a few of them might be guilty?  Is that how the law generally works in South Africa?

        1. Come now, a liquor store robbery is a one person job, this rule wouldn’t even come into effect if you were halfway decent at it!

      1. Common Law is an English tradition adopted by many former British colonies.  The BBC article says that the South African government is interpreting the common law felony murder rule as including this case, but I haven’t heard of anyone else ever interpreting it that way.

        On the other hand, any country that has police has at least an unwritten law about “Never EVER attack the police.”

  9. And I thought executing someone and making their family pay for the bullets was bad. This is a new standard.

  10. Because there’s ever a justification for firing live ammunition into a crowd of protestors?

  11. Two weeks ago, police in South Africa shot dead 34 striking miners at a protest. Now, some of those who(miners) remain will be charged with their colleagues (Police)’ murder. [BBC] 
    So, miners are being charged with murder and probably attempted murder for attacking police. Note that police officers were killed prior to the main shooting.

    Also note that the shooting shown in the media only resulted in a bout 12 deaths, the remainder of the deaths were separate incidences over the course of the conflict. Man journalists are lazy XD 

    1. I hear a lot of automatic fire coming from the police, as a response to a single idiot with a handgun. And even then, charging all the people who were not the idiot with the handgun? It still looks like an excessive overreaction by the police (who look more like an army than actual police).

      1. mass murder soon to be followed by massacre, and you laugh.   American, white, young,  male,  right?

        1. Laughing about “a tsunami of blood is coming.” doesn’t equal laughing about that mass murder soon to be followed by massacre. 

  12. Of course this means that if one or more of the police end up charged with murder for overreacting, ALL the police present will be charged with murder. That IS how it works, right? (sarky)

    1. Well, since the police fired first and then a miner fired and then the police returned heavy fire, the police are responsible for the that first return shot by their initial actions, so clearly all the police officers should be charged with murder.

      For those unfamiliar with the phrase “reductio ad absurdum”, look it up.

  13. I believe during Krystalnacht, the Nazis assaulted Jews and their property, then held the Jewish community responsible for the violence and made them pay damages.  Is it a violation of Godwin’s Law for me to bring this up?

    1. Godwin’s law: “As an online discussion grows longer, the probability of a comparison involving Nazis or Hitler approaches 1.” 
      You just fulfill the law, violating it would be if in a near infinitely long thread no one ever brought up hitlernazis. 
      Also, there is nothing wrong with comparing a massacre by uniformed thugs to a massacre by uniformed thugs.

  14. I’m sure there is a simple explaination, like they fell on some bullets. Several times. It happens, get over it.

  15. As a South African, I’m pretty appalled by this whole thing. Some others have tried to put this in context, but just to reiterate: this protest had been going for some time. There had been fatalities on both sides. Two cops had been killed, and at least one of those had his firearm stolen. The police had been using water cannons, tear gas, and rubber bullets prior to the shooting. Many of the rioters were armed – not with guns, but vicious weapons nevertheless. Obviously, it was an excessive use of force and, frankly, I’m surprised the cops didn’t end up shooting each other. Charging everyone seems like a foolish response, and I doubt it’ll hold up in court for very long. What really irks me, though, is that South Africans have forgotten *how* to protest. It seems like every single protest these days involves weapons, arson, and/or destruction of property. Peaceful protest isn’t exactly a dark art. Provoking (scared) men with guns seems like a recipe for disaster, and when the gun smoke clears, everyone seems surprised that it happened. Until we return to more effective modes of voicing discontent, scenes like this will keep happening.

  16. As a South African living in South Africa that has been following this story very closely, this is the most logical article I have read to date. http://dailymaverick.co.za/article/2012-08-30-the-murder-fields-of-marikana-the-cold-murder-fields-of-marikana

Comments are closed.