The 270 miners accused of killing 34 fellow strikers at a platinum mine in South Africa are to be released from jail after prosecutors decided to withdraw the murder charges against them.
Public anger had been mounting at the charges, made under an apartheid-era law that allowed the miners to be deemed to have had a "common purpose" in the murder of their colleagues -- even though they were all shot dead by police.
Political parties, trade unions, civil-rights groups and even South Africa's justice minister had criticised the decision to hold the miners responsible for the massacre, which happened at the Marikana mine in South Africa's North West Province last month.
However, Nomqcobo Jiba, the acting national director of prosecutions, announced yesterday that the murder charges would be provisionally withdrawn until the criminal investigation and public inquiry into what happened had been completed.
She said other charges, ranging from public violence and illegal gathering to illegal possession of firearms, would remain, but that the miners would be released.
The murder charges could be reintroduced once the inquiry has been completed. It is due to report back in four months' time.
The news was welcomed by miners' representatives, who said it would help to "normalise" the tense situation in the town and bring some goodwill to wage negotiations with the mine's owners, the UK-listed company Lonmin.
The deaths of the 34 miners, the worst security incident since the end of apartheid and white minority rule in 1994, shocked the nation.
However, the announcement by the National Prosecuting Authority on Thursday that it would resurrect an apartheid-era law that holds those who attack armed police responsible for the consequences was greeted with almost unanimous outcry.
A total of 34 people were killed on August 16 after officers opened fire with live ammunition, having failed to disperse the strikers with water cannons and tear gas.
The miners' lawyers wrote to President Jacob Zuma on Friday, asking him to order their release, and threatening high court action if he did not. On Saturday, he said he would not get involved. (© Daily Telegraph, London)