Prosecutors used a controversial doctrine called 'common purpose,' popular during the country's apartheid era, to make the charge.
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A picture taken on August 20 shows police standing guard as miners allegedly involved in violent clashes between protesting workers and police at the Marikana mine arrive at the Ga-Rankuwa courthouse.
Nearly 300 miners in South Africa were charged with murdering 34 of their colleagues Thursday - even though the dead were actually shot by police.
"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," Frank Lesenyego, a spokesperson for the National Prosecuting Authority, told the Associated Press
This legal doctrine is controversial and was popular during apartheid. Known as "common purpose", it holds, said the spokesperson, "that people are charged with common purpose in a situation where there are suspects with guns or any weapons and they confront or attack the police and a shooting takes place and there are fatalities."
Many say this turns the victims into the perpetrators.
"The whole world saw the policemen kill those people," Julius Malema, a former youth leader of the African National Congress, told the BBC. He said the decision to charge the miners instead of the policemen was "madness."
Of the 270 miners charged, 264 appeared in the Ga Rankuwa court. The other six, injured during the shooting, remained hospitalized.
They were all denied bail and their hearing was adjourned for a week.
The "common purpose doctrine" was called "very outdated and infamous," by local lawyer Jay Surju, who told the BBC that it was discredited during apartheid.
Its use was also called a "flagrant abuse of the criminal justice system" by Pierre de Vos, a South African constitutional lawyer.
Opening fire on the protesters was a matter of self-defense, police have said. The miners, part of a union fringe, reportedly charged police at the mine with a ragtag collection of clubs and spears.
But journalists and other witnesses have questioned the motives of police killings, and South African president Jacob Zuma has promised that a commission will investigate each of the 34 deaths.
The miners' protest - in addition to this charge - highlight rising inequality and racial tension in a country where a small white minority once used legal tools, such as common purpose, to enforce segregation.
August's shootings were the bloodiest since South Africa transitioned to democracy in the mid-1990s.