Radebe asks NPA to explain Marikana murder charges
JUSTICE and Constitutional Affairs Minister Jeff Radebe has ordered the acting national director of public prosecutions, advocate Nomgcobo Jiba, to give him reasons for the National Prosecuting Authority (NPA) decision to charge Lonmin miners with murder.
The 270 arrested Lonmin miners were charged with 44 counts of murder on Thursday, a development that drew widespread criticism from law experts, trade unions and others.
Mr Radebe said on Friday: "There is no doubt that the NPA’s decision has induced a sense of shock, panic and confusion within the members of the community and the general South African public. It is therefore incumbent upon me to seek clarity on the basis upon which such a decision is taken in my capacity as Minister of justice and Constitutional Development under whose department the NPA falls."
The statement issued by his office quoted section 176 of the constitution, which says the Cabinet minister responsible for the administration of justice must exercise final responsibility over the prosecution authority, and section 333 of the NPA Act, which says the prosecutions chief must provide the minister with any information requested on any case, or reasons for any decision taken by the director.
There has been widespread criticism of Thursday’s decision to add murder to the charge sheets of 270 Marikana mineworkers who appeared in the Ga-Rankuwa Magistrate’s Court. NPA North West spokesman Frank Lesenyego said every one of them was being charged with murder, attempted murder and public violence.
"Finer details around the charges will emerge in court when their bail application starts next week," he said.
The Congress of South African Trade Unions (Cosatu) and law expert Pierre de Vos are among those who have criticised the decision.
Prof de Vos said the decision was "shameful", as it flouted the constitution.
Writing on his blog on Thursday night, he said the NPA Act required every member of the authority to act without fear, favour or prejudice.
"Instead they have acted with fear, favour and prejudice to advance some or another political agenda, further eroding the little trust South Africans might still have left in them," he said. "It is, indeed, shameful."
Two weeks ago, 34 striking workers were shot dead by police who were trying to disperse them at platinum producer Lonmin’ mine in Marikana. Another 78 were injured.
Ten people, including two police officers and two security guards, were killed in the week leading up to the shooting.
Initially, the arrested miners were charged with public violence. On Thursday, the NPA said they would also face charges of murder and attempted murder for the deaths of their colleagues.
Prof de Vos said the decision represented "a flagrant abuse" of the criminal justice system. "Unless what we saw on our TV screens never happened, or unless the NPA is hiding shocking and bizarre conspiracy theory-type evidence from us ... there could be no possible valid reason for the NPA to have charged the miners with murder."
He said even if the miners had provoked the police, this could not make them liable for the killings.
"Perhaps they (the NPA) are clumsily trying to stigmatise the miners in the eyes of the public.... Maybe they are trying to intimidate the miners in an attempt to break their spirit."
Cosatu said it was outraged by the decision.
Spokesman Patrick Craven said it exposed the lack of proper training within the South African Police Service and the NPA for failing to find evidence and charge those responsible for the offence.
"The NPA should have waited for the findings of the judicial commission of inquiry, which is tasked with uncovering the truth ... before jumping the gun and laying such charges," Mr Craven said on Friday.
"It is showing its contempt for the inquiry and potentially jeopardising its independence and relevance by prejudging the arrested workers on the basis of their own version of the facts."
In an open letter to President Jacob Zuma, the United Democratic Movement (UDM) called for an intervention in the matter.
"The police have blocked every attempt by the mineworkers to get bail because they claim that they are still busy with investigations," UDM president Bantu Holomisa said. "Yet, the NPA has already taken a decision to prosecute the mineworkers even though the investigation is incomplete."
It appeared as though other arms of the government already knew who was to blame for the shooting, said Mr Holomisa, and this undermined the role of the commission of inquiry. "We call on you (Mr Zuma) to halt the unfair prosecution of mineworkers and to urge everyone to allow the ... inquiry get to the bottom of the Marikana massacre."
Expelled ANC Youth League president Julius Malema told protesters outside the magistrate’s court on Thursday that charging the miners with murder was madness.
"The policemen who killed those people are not in custody, not even one of them. This is madness," he said. "The whole world saw the policemen kill those people."
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