ANC's treasure-general Mathews Phosa. Photo: Boxer Ngwenya

Johannesburg – ANC treasurer general Mathews Phosa has condemned the decision of the National Prosecuting Authority (NPA) to prosecute 270 Marikana Lonmin miners for the deaths of their colleagues, calling it “absurd”. He is the first top ANC official to denounce the move.

This comes a day after Justice Minister Jeff Radebe asked the NPA to explain the rationale behind it. “Charging some of the role players in the face of a commission of inquiry, is contrary to the sub-judice rule, reckless, incongruous and almost absurd – the consequences whereof are too ghastly to contemplate. We don’t need another Marikana. We need cool heads to prevail,” Phosa said.

He was speaking in Hartswater, in the Northern Cape, during the arrival of the ANC centenary torch from North West. Phosa also called for a halt of political point scoring, saying Marikana was not about Mangaung. Phosa said the ANC leadership was being substantially tested by socio-economic realities. “Out of the whole Marikana saga we should be asking ourselves a simple question: ‘Why have the workers lost faith in the legitimate authorities?’ “

Meanwhile, the lawyers of the 270 accused miners have issued an ultimatum to President Jacob Zuma and the NPA for their release.

In a letter to the president, the lawyers said their arrests were unlawful. “We have been instructed to write this letter to demand that, in the exercise of your powers, you should please take all necessary steps to secure the release of our clients by 1pm on Sunday, September 2, 2012, failing which an urgent court application will be launched in the high court to compel… you to do so,” the letter reads.

The lawyers said it was the police who killed the 34 miners, not those who were arrested.

On Saturday Presidency spokesman Mac Maharaj said Zuma cannot accede to the demand.

“In deference to our constitutional democracy, President Zuma will not interfere in the work of the Marikana Commission or any other processes, including the prosecution of persons associated with the tragedy,” Maharaj said in a statement.

He said Zuma was required to uphold the constitution at all time and “he respects the independence of all institutions created to ensure the smooth functioning of our constitutional democracy, including those in the legal sphere, which need to execute their responsibilities without fear, favour or interference.”

The arrest of the 270 has drawn widespread condemnation from the public, who expected the police – and not the miners – to be arrested and questioned in connection with the killings. The Council for the Advancement of the SA Constitution yesterday joined the chorus of those who condemned the NPA decision. On Friday, Radebe said he had asked acting NPA head Nomgcobo Jiba to explain how the decision had been reached, saying he had “no doubt that the NPA’s decision has induced a sense of shock, panic and confusion” in the public.

On Saturday, ANC Chief Whip Mathole Motshekga backed Radebe for demanding answers from the NPA for charging the miners. “We are all surprised and confused by the NPA’s legal strategy,” Motshekga said.

NPA spokeswoman Bulelwa Makeke said Jiba had since requested the North West head of prosecutions, advocate Johan Smit, to furnish her with a full report with regard to the charges.

“Once the report has been received from [Smit], [Jiba] will be able to make a decision on the suitability of the charges, after taking all factors into consideration,” Makeke said. – Sunday Independent