Zuma told: ‘Release miners by Sunday’

2012-08-31 16:53
Xolani Mbanjwa
Lawyers acting for 269 arrested Lonmin miners have given President Jacob Zuma until Sunday to release their clients.

In a hard-hitting letter delivered to Zuma this afternoon, attorneys Maluleke Msimang and Associates told the president the decision by the National Prosecuting Authority (NPA) to charge their clients was “bizarre in the extreme”.

Zuma is requested to secure the release of all detainees by 1pm on Sunday or face an urgent high court application compelling the president to release the mineworkers.

The NPA’s decision to charge the miners with common purpose murder has been criticised by constitutional experts. This afternoon Justice Minister Jeff Radebe asked acting NPA head Nomgcobo Jiba for an explanation.

The legal team, led by Advocate Dali Mpofu, have also rubbished claims by the NPA that the accused planned the murders.

Maluleke, Msimang and Associates says keeping the miners behind bars is “unlawful”.

“Our clients have been in police custody for the past 15 days since the massacre. It is not in dispute that they formed part of the group of workers who held a sit down protest on the mountain or hill where the massacre took place and that they were arrested in a random swoop of some of the protesters, shortly after the shootings by the police directed at the protesters and strikers,” reads the letter.

It is the “understatement of the century”, they say, “to call this turn of events bizarre in the extreme”.

“It is inconceivable that the South African state, of which you are the head, and any of its various public representatives, officials and citizens, can genuinely and honestly believe or even suspect that our clients murdered their own colleagues and in some cases, their own relatives,” the letter reads.

The lawyers say it was “obvious” that it was police who opened fire and killed the striking mineworkers, not their colleagues.

“This much was seen by millions of people on television around the world. More significantly, it was admitted by the National Police Commissioner (General Riah Phiyega) on 17 August. Her only qualification was to the effect that the police had killed the protesters in self-defence. That they (police) killed the protesters is not in dispute.”

Zuma’s establishment of a judicial commission of inquiry a week ago is meant to investigate the 34 murders at Lonmin.

“If the South African state is correctly awaiting the outcome of the inquiry in order to determine the possibility of criminal charges, how can the same state logically sustain its actions in charging our clients before the inquiry has even started its work?” the lawyers ask.

The NPA has urged the public to allow the prosecution to prove its case that the murders were premeditated and the mineworkers were guilty of common purpose murder.

“In terms of the law, co-perpetrators may be held liable for the death of members of their group or of others where there is enough evidence of foreseeing that death may result as a consequence of their collective action, and nonetheless proceeding with that action.

“This approach is based on sound legal principles that are well established in law and there is case law to support the approach the NPA has adopted,” said spokesperson Bulelwa Makeke.