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South Africa Miners Charged With The Murder Of 34 Colleagues Shot By Police

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Striking Lonmin mine workers form a group to sing and dance after listening to a report about the state of their wage negotiations on Aug. 29 in Marikana. (Rodger Bosch‪/AFP/Getty Images‬)
Striking Lonmin mine workers form a group to sing and dance after listening to a report about the state of their wage negotiations on Aug. 29 in Marikana. (Rodger Bosch‪/AFP/Getty Images‬)

270 striking workers arrested at South Africa's Marikana platinum mine have been charged in court with the murder of 34 of their colleagues who were shot by police on August 16.

The BBC reports that the miners will be tried under the "common purpose doctrine" since they were all part of the crowd that confronted police when the killings occurred.

"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," National Prosecuting Authority spokesperson Frank Lesenyego explained.

The spokesperson added that all the workers, including those "who were unarmed or were at the back of the crowd," would face murder charges.

No police officers have yet been charged.

The miners' strike took off peacefully on August 10, as workers demanded an increase of their monthly wage from R5,500 to R12,500 (about $650 to $1480). The situation, however, soon turned violent. 10 people were killed within days, including two police officers who were battered to death by strikers and two mine security guards burned alive when their vehicle was set ablaze.

On August 16, police opened fire on the crowd, killing 34 miners and wounding at least 78. Police claim they acted in self-defense, but according to local news reports post-mortem examinations of the victims show that most of them had been shot in the back as they tried to flee the barrage of gunfire.

No police officers were hurt in the exchange, according to reports.

Some 270 striking miners were arrested after the incident and are currently in police custody.

Moses Dlamini of the Independent Police Complaints Directorate told the Associated Press that the murders were being investigated.

Dlamini also said the police watchdog is looking into allegations that more than 150 miners were beaten, kicked and slapped around in police custody.

Lawyers acting for the Marikana miners appeared in court on Wednesday to argue for their release on bail, after the state prosecutor "increased the charges against the men from attempted murder and public violence to murder," the Independent reports.

The U.K. newspaper also notes that government mediators met representatives from the mine owner, Lonmin, and four trade unions on Wednesday in "an attempt to sign a peace accord as a precursor to wage talks."

Fewer than 7 percent of Lonmin's 28,000-strong South African workforce reported for work on Thursday, according to Reuters.

Reports say the latest development in the strikers' case may further exacerbate rising political tensions in the country.

According to BBC South Africa analyst Farouk Chothia, the decision to bring murder charges under the "common purpose" doctrine is "politically controversial" as South Africa's former white minority regime used the tool against anti-apartheid activists.

The killings have already damaged the reputation of South African President Jacob Zuma and his party. Zuma's critics say the shootings highlight the "party's disregard for the poor."

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Filed by Dominique Mosbergen