THE National Prosecuting Authority announced on Sunday that the provisional murder charges against the Lonmin mineworkers — arrested after the Marikana massacre last month — would be dropped, that it would no longer oppose bail and that the miners would be released on a warning.
The decision introduces some sanity to the absurd situation of people who were being killed in their dozens being charged with murdering their colleagues and fellow strikers. Yet, from being ridiculously harsh, the miners are now arguably being treated too leniently. It seems impossible to dispute that the miners were engaged in a public-order violation, particularly since they were armed to the teeth and behaving in a threatening manner.
There is also an important question of whether the police special tactical unit should be investigated for overstepping the bounds of its legal authority. Apparently, these issues are being considered, as they should be.
It is arguable that both of these sets of investigations should be put on hold while the judicial inquiry is under way, and acting national director of public prosecutions Nomgcobo Jiba has agreed this would be practical, although there is no legal requirement to do so. It seems sensible for the investigations to continue, but for the process of laying charges to be held over until the commission has drawn its conclusions. It may even be advisable for the commission to make a recommendation on the issue of who should be charged and for what.
There is a political dimension to the issue and, so far, President Jacob Zuma has correctly stuck to the letter of the law, which prohibits him from "influencing" the decision to prosecute or not to prosecute. However, he is not constrained from dealing with a host of surrounding issues, and he has done so in many instances. These include providing assistance to the families of the injured and deceased.
However, there is a good argument that he should be doing more. One particular issue is the living conditions of the miners, which is nominally the responsibility of the Rustenburg municipality, in collaboration with the mine. What local government has done, and not done, is a political issue that should not be swept under the carpet.
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