JOHANNESBURG, South Africa — About 270 miners were charged Thursday with the murders of 34 striking colleagues who were shot by police officers, authorities said, a development that could further infuriate South Africans already shocked and angered by the police action.
The decision to charge the miners comes under an arcane Roman-Dutch common purpose law used under the apartheid regime, and it suggests President Jacob Zuma's government wants to shift blame for the killings from police to the striking miners.
Firebrand Julius Malema told supporters of miners outside the courthouse that the charges were "madness."
"The policemen who killed those people are not in custody, not even one of them," said Malema, who was expelled from the governing African National Congress in April. "The whole world saw the policemen kill those people."
National Prosecuting Authority spokesman Frank Lesenyego said, "It's the police who were shooting, but they were under attack by the protesters, who were armed, so today the 270 accused are charged with the murders" of those who were shot.
More than 150 of the arrested miners have filed complaints that they have been beaten up in police cells by officers, the Independent Police Complaints Directorate reported this week. Directorate spokesman Moses Dlamini said the complainants accused police of trying to force them to give the names of miners who hacked two police officers to death in a week of violence preceding the shootings.
On Aug. 16, police said they had failed to persuade the strikers to disarm and that it was "D-Day" to end the strike. That afternoon, striking miners armed with clubs, machetes and at least one gun allegedly charged at police, who opened fire, killing 34 and wounding at least 78.
Some survivors said many of the miners were fleeing when they were shot.