The NPA was queried on Friday about its contentious decision to charge the arrested Marikana miners with the murder of their colleagues.
Justice Minister Jeff Radebe said he would seek clarity on the reasons for the move, while legal experts and political parties roundly condemned the decision.
Radebe acknowledged that the decision, which made headlines here and abroad, had shocked the public.
“There is no doubt that the National Prosecuting Authority's 1/8NPA 3/8 decision has induced a sense of shock, panic and confusion within the members of the community and the general South African public,” he said in a statement.
“It is therefore incumbent upon me to seek clarity on the basis upon which such a decision is taken.”
Radebe invoked section 179 (6) of the Constitution, which states that the justice minister “must exercise final responsibility over the prosecuting authority”.
On Thursday, the State added murder to charges of public violence and attempted murder against 270 miners, employed by Lonmin, arrested after 34 of their colleagues died and 78 were wounded in police fire on August 16.
Regional NPA spokesman Frank Lesenyego said prosecutors were relying on the “common purpose” doctrine in common law.
He said: “In legal (terms), when people attack or confront (the police) and a shooting takes place which results in fatalities... suspects arrested, irrespective of whether they shot police members or the police shot them, are charged with murder.”
The step drew a storm of protest and a comparison with apartheid era prosecutions practice.
Constitutional law expert Pierre de Vos called it “shameful” and said this principle was used to convict the so-called Sharpeville Six in 1985 for the murder of the township's deputy mayor.
De Vos said that in 2003, the Constitutional Court adopted a narrower definition of the doctrine. He said the NPA's reasoning was so flawed the charges were bound to fail.
“Even if it was true that the miners provoked the police, this could never, ever make them liable for the killing of their comrades.
“At most, provocation could be a factor taken into account in judging whether the police officers involved in the massacre should be found guilty of murder or not.”
He suggested that the charges might be a way of stigmatising or intimidating the striking Lonmin miners, or of trying to divert popular blame for the killings away from the authorities.
The Council for the Advancement of the SA Constitution (Casac) also condemned the charges and called on President Jacob Zuma to suspend acting National Director of Public Prosecutions Nomgcobo Jiba.
“Casac condemns the NPA for acting in a partisan, perverse and irrational manner in bringing charges of murder against the people arrested at Marikana,” spokeswoman Masutane Modjadji said.
Like De Vos, the Democratic Alliance said there might be a political motive “inappropriate to the NPA” behind the charges.
DA MP Debbie Schaeffer said it was at odds with Zuma's decision to establish a commission of inquiry to probe the shooting.
“We have to question the wisdom of this decision in light of the uncertainty that exists, the seeming lack of available evidence, as well as the politically charged nature of the situation.
“Surely, the responsible thing to do would be to make certain of the facts and obtain all available evidence before embarking on such a drastic course of action.”
Expelled ANC Youth League president Julius Malema, who was at the Ga-Rankuwa Magistrate's Court when the charges were announced on Thursday, used it to seize another opportunity to blast the state's handling of the shooting.
He termed the decision “madness”, and asked why it was not the police officers who opened fire who were facing murder charges.
The Democratic Left Front expressed the same sentiment.
“The DLF calls on the NPA to lay charges of murder against the police. We say no to a police cover-up,” DLF spokesman Brian Ashley said.
The case had already attracted considerable controversy before prosecutors announced the murder charges.
Until Wednesday, only 24 of those held had been brought to court. This changed after the defence team argued that the others' right to a fair trial was being infringed.
The State attracted criticism, including from magistrate Esau Bodigelo, for seeking to delay the bail application of the arrested miners for another week.
Bodigelo finally allowed an extension until September 6. - Sapa