South African police killed 34 miners during a strike in the middle of August. The remaining 270 striking miners have been charged with murder under an apartheid-era law that white authorities previously used to control black demonstrators. At that time, the law was considered unfair by the now governing African National Congress.
Authorities are using an obscure statute called the common purpose law, under which people in a crowd where a crime was committed can be prosecuted as accomplices. The law has not been used in South Africa since apartheid ended almost 20 years ago. Under the law, the miners would be blamed for the deaths even though police did the shooting.
Witnesses say police shot some of the miners in the back. Others were shot far from the scene. The platinum mine workers went on strike earlier this month for more pay. Violence broke out when company officials asked police to break up the march. They succeeded in the same way police always succeed — by using more force, then blaming the victims.
UPDATE: after much international hue and cry, South African authorities decided to drop the murder charges once the inquiry is finished. The incarcerated miners won’t have to wait for the inquiry to wrap up, however. They will be released immediately.