South Africa

September 6th, 2012

Global attention has shifted in recent weeks to areas throughout South Africa as unrest in the mining industry takes the political stage.

What began as a series of labor strikes across regions of South Africa has ended in bloodshed, wrongful convictions, a public outcry and has recently culminated in a muddled prosecution and dropped charges.

Tensions began in mid-August at the Marikana platinum mine of Lonmin in South Africa, as miners stopped their work in protest and demanded a substantial pay raise as well as recognition of a new union. Over 270 miners took part in the strike but were soon defeated in their efforts when police arrived at the scene and opened fire.

According to a report from BBC News Africa, “Police said they opened fire on the strikers at Marikana after being threatened by a crowd of protesters who advanced towards them, armed with machetes.”

Although the police assert that they were acting in a manner of self-defense, the protest ended in bloodshed and the loss of 34 miners. The remaining 270 protestors were arrested on site and charged with the murders of the 34 who were shot and killed.

On Sunday, after weeks of public outcry aimed towards the government, prosecutors decided to set aside the murder charges against the 270 striking miners. Since then, 50 South African miners have been set free.

“The prosecution announced the murder charges would be suspended until the outcome of a judge-led inquiry into the events of August 16 at the Lonmin-owned Marikana platinum mine,” reported BBC News Africa. The miners will be released in batches with no bail requirements.

While miners celebrate their release, many are left to question the strategic moves made by the prosecution, a move that was reminiscent of the all too familiar apartheid-era rule.

According to a report from The Wall Street Journal, South Africa’s state prosecutor charged 270 protestors under the “common purpose” doctrine, an apartheid-era law that allows authorities to lay charges for a crime against a group of people because of their association to a larger group.     During the apartheid era, which ended in 1994, the white minority held a majority of the power and utilized the “common purpose” doctrine to oppress its black opponents.

The now governing African National Congress has vehemently opposed this type of regime and its standards and reports that “questions and eyebrows have been raised regarding the National Prosecuting Authority’s  prosecutorial strategy,” according to The Wall Street Journal.

The situation hits close to home as the police brutality has been reported as the worst bloodbath in the country since the end of the apartheid in 1994.

While the miners celebrate a small victory in their release, talks continue in hope of resolving the clash, and the protestors are due back in court in February to face charges of public violence and holding an illegal gathering. The mine remains closed in the meantime.

Jacob Zuma, South Africa’s president, commented on the crisis as concerns over rising platinum prices mounted, saying, “We cry with you, all of us … It is not acceptable for people to die where talks can be held,”  according to the The Washington Post.

The labor unrest has sparked a series of similar protests across South Africa, the most recent taking place Monday near Johannesburg in which four were injured. The tensions arising from the mining industry serve as a reflection of the political unrest and perceived inequalities across the nation as a whole since the dissolution of the apartheid.