A modicum of sense and acknowledgement of a great folly seemed to have overcome the South African Government on Sunday when its Acting Director of Public Prosecutions, Ms Nomqcobo Jiba announced that the controversial murder charges filed against 270 miners for the killings of 34 striking co-workers shot dead by police were being withdrawn.
To say that we were astonished by the initial decision to charge the miners with murder is an understatement. For we, along with the entire world, watched with horror television replays of the brutal killings committed by the police last month.
The South African police had claimed selfdefence, saying that the miners shot at them. Most of the miners, we were told, were armed with home-made clubs and machetes. However, the police claimed they recovered several handguns from the scene.
Our shock at the mass slaying, which revived memories of the actions of the evil Apartheid Government of the past, was eased somewhat when South African President Jacob Zuma ordered a judicial commission of inquiry which, we are told, is to report its findings to him by January next year.
However, when it was announced last week that the 270 miners arrested after the police killings were charged with murder under an Apartheid-era law we were stunned.
That decision by the prosecutor rubbed salt into the wounds already opened by the police action in a country where the majority were oppressed by the State in some of the worst ways imaginable for decades. And the fact that this old law is no longer in the Constitution makes the State’s action more egregious.
We had expected better from a government that strongly opposed the inhumanity that its racist predecessors displayed to the majority people of South Africa, and, indeed, from a State which only last month was represented here in Jamaica by its president, sharing with us the significance of our 50th year of separation from colonial rule.
We are not here advocating that the Government turns a blind eye to the week of violence and bloodshed that preceded what is now known as the ‘Marikana massacre’. Those responsible for the killing of 10 people, among them two police officers who were hacked, and two mine security guards who were burned alive in their vehicle, need to be arrested, charged and placed before the courts.
However, the South African State should not have sunk to the level where it was accused of “a flagrant abuse of the criminal justice system in an effort to protect the police and/or politicians”.
Ms Jiba, we hold, has done the correct thing in reversing her decision to shift the blame for the killings from the police to the miners, even though she has not said what influenced the change.
We note, though, that she has insisted that other charges, among them public violence, illegal gathering and illegal possession of firearms, will not be dropped against the 270 miners.
Those cases, she said, were being postponed pending the final investigations and the findings of a commission of inquiry.
From this distance, it appears to us that Ms Jiba has put out a fire but has kept alight a wick that, if not extinguished, could result in an explosion.
The men and women who died in the long, bitter, fight against Apartheid must now be rolling in their graves.