Commentary: Is South Africa a Police State?

An apartheid-era law has been used to charge a group of poor, disenfranchised miners with murder after police shot and killed 37 of their colleagues.

Posted: 08/30/2012 03:07 PM EDT
Marikana Lonmin platinum mine protest

South Africa has gone old school with their repression.

Using an apartheid-era law originally used against Black activists, South African authorities have charged 270 miners with murder for being present at the Marikana Lonmin platinum mine where 37 fellow protesters were shot by police.

The killings marked the deadliest action by police force since apartheid was abolished in 1994.

The charges come under the “common purpose” doctrine and allows the state to implicate people who have a “common purpose” in a situation where armed suspects confront or attack the police and fatalities result. Common purpose was regularly used by the National Party to intimidate Black activists — like the African National Congress (ANC) — fighting for racial justice and equality.

"This is a very outdated and infamous doctrine," lawyer Jay Surju told BBC's Focus on Africa. "It was discredited during the time of apartheid."

The law was used most infamously against the "Upington 14," a group of Black South Africans who were sentenced to death in 1989 for being part of a crowd that killed a police officer in 1985. Successful pressure resulted in 11 of the convictions being overturned, but now it seems the legacy of that injustice never left.

“The policemen who killed those people are not in custody, not even one of them. This is madness," former ANC Youth League leader Julius Malema told a crowd Thursday, according to the Mail & Guardian. "The whole world saw the policemen kill those people. We are going to be seized with this matter."

And if being slapped with a blatantly repressive law devised by your racist former rulers isn’t bad enough, autopsies from the deceased miners show that several were shot in the back while attempting to flee the scene — not bravely bludgeoning police officer with sticks as was reported.

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(Photo: AP Photo/Themba Hadebe)