Johannesburg - Prosecutors provisionally withdrew murder charges on Sunday against 270 miners who had been accused of killing 34 striking colleagues shot dead by police, but said they could be recharged when investigations are complete.
Public anger had been mounting at the charges, made under an apartheid-era law under which the miners were deemed to have had a “common purpose” in the murder of their co-workers.
The police killing of the strikers last month at the Marikana mine, run by platinum producer Lonmin [JSE:LON], was the worst such security incident since the end of white rule in 1994, and recalled scenes of apartheid-era state brutality.
“Final charges will only be made once all investigations have been completed. The murder charges against the current 270 suspects will be formally withdrawn provisionally in court,” Nomgcobo Jiba, the acting national director of prosecutions, said in a televised news conference.
In all, 44 people were killed in the wave of violence stemming from an illegal strike and union turf war.
Top members of the ruling African National Congress had also expressed dismay at the charges as a public backlash gathered.
“We are all surprised and confused by the National Prosecuting Authority’s legal strategy,” the ANC’s chief whip in parliament said on Friday.
President Jacob Zuma has seen his support erode over the killings and the state’s handling of the matter, with enemies saying he is more interested in protecting the industry and powerful labour groups than the miners.
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