This Union is completely shocked that murder charges have been laid against the 270 people who were arrested on August 12th in Marikana, during the massacre of 34 workers who were killed by the police. It is not just this Union and our Federation COSATU that is alarmed and shocked by this turn of events, but also respected constitutional lawyers. Pierre de Vos, a respected constitutional lawyer based at the University of Cape Town has called the development bizarre and shocking and a flagrant abuse of the criminal justice system.

To use ‘common purpose’ law in this case is also deeply provocative and insulting. This is legislation that was internationally condemned when it was used to collectively silence and condemn anti-apartheid activists, and to criminalise all those who were fighting for democracy in South Africa.

These developments are deeply worrying and all concerned citizens must ask a very basic question; the most recent comments from the Minister of Justice, seeking an explanation of this situation makes the question even more pressing, and that is ‘What is happening in the State?’

On the one hand we have seven days of official morning declared by the President, a high level governmental and judicial enquiry, the payment from the public fiscus of funeral expenses to the families of those who were killed, government intervention to stop the dismissal of those still on strike, and serious attempts via the Minister of Labour to establish the basis for a peace accord towards a negotiated settlement.

On the other hand, there is the bizarre and legally indefensible application of the common purpose laws, accompanied by the abuse of prisoners basic human and legal rights, strong evidence emerging that many of those who were killed by police were shot while retreating (and out of view of the media), and corroborated reports of the illegal and heartless mistreatment of those arrested, including the denial of medical treatment.

South Africa and the world was shocked at the gunning down of 34 workers, but are now completely perplexed to hear that those who were shot at by the police, and who fled for their lives, have been charged with the murderous actions they so luckily escaped. The reputation of our beloved country is being tarnished. Decisive action is now required from our leadership. This tragic and confused legal approach to the Marikana crisis is simply making matters far worse.

Now is the time for honest, open and firm leadership. Those who are currently directing the legal case against the 270 must be changed immediately. The murder charges must be withdrawn pending the outcome of the Judicial Enquiry. Bail facilities must be fast-tracked to allow those who have been traumatised by this experience to return to their families, to grieve the neighbours and fellow workers they have lost, and to visit those who are still in hospital receiving treatment. Communities must be allowed to return to some degree of normality.

Efforts to secure a peace accord must be given utmost priority as must efforts at finding an acceptable negotiated settlement between all concerned parties to allow for a return to work. These constructive measures require a calm and stable environment if they are to succeed. At present they are being critically disabled by those who seem hell bent on exacting vengeance above all else. This is unacceptable.

In addition, the Judicial Enquiry must speedily start its work and report within a time frame that reassures the public. All those with evidence to submit, must be ready, and resist the temptation to derail progress. All those who are seeking to exploit this crisis for their own self-serving interests must be persuaded by an overwhelming popular acclaim, to curtail their ambitions, for the common good.