MTHATHA - South Africa on Saturday buried dozens of mineworkers killed by police last month in the worst crackdown on protests since apartheid.

Twenty-six of the 34 miners killed when police sprayed bullets on a group of striking miners at Lonmin platinum mine on August 16 were being buried this weekend in various parts of the country, according to a schedule issued by government.

Meanwhile, lawyers have written to President Jacob Zuma demanding the release of 270 surviving miners who have been charged with their colleagues’ murder under a “common purpose” law used by the former apartheid regime.

But on Saturday, Zuma’s office said: “The President cannot accede to the demand.”

“In deference to our constitutional democracy, President Zuma will not interfere in the work of ... any other processes, including the prosecution of persons associated with the tragedy.” Zuma has already appointed a judiciary commission to probe the killings. The majority of the killed miners came from the Eastern Cape province, where among funerals held was one in Mdumazulu village for a 48-year-old miner and his mother who collapsed at the news of his death.

Thousands of relatives, workmates and friends of Phumzile Sokhanyile gathered under a white tent to mourn his and his mother’s passing. The miner’s 79-year-old mother, Glorious Mamkhuzeni-Sokhanyile - who suffered from asthma and hypertension - fainted when she first learnt of the death of her son two days after the killings, a family member said.

But the images of the police opening fire on the miners a day later on television news sent her to her death, the miner’s aunt Thokozile Sokhanyile, told AFP. “She saw the images and went ‘Ah! That’s how my son was killed?’ and she collapsed,” the aunt recounted, adding that she was taken to hospital where she was pronounced dead on arrival. On Saturday, only the mother’s coffin lay in front with a wreath on top, while Phumzile’s remains were buried on Friday as soon they were received by the family, according to rites in cases where a person dies of unnatural causes.

The body was not even allowed anywhere near his family home, and was taken straight to a cemetery, in the belief that it will ward off bad omen in future. In all, 44 people died during the wildcat strike for better wages, which is now in its fourth week.

Ten others, including two policemen, were bludgeoned to death days before the shooting. Another 78 workers were injured in the shootout.

Prosecutors’ decision to press murder charges against 270 surviving strikers for the murder of their colleagues who were shot by the police, has sparked anger and shock.

Justice Minister Jeff Radebe has demanded an explanation for the prosecutions authority on why it laid the murder charged against the miners.

Under the common purpose principle, a group of people can be charged for acting together to commit a criminal act. It was once used by the ruling white minority regime to crack down on black activists who were fighting for equality.

The strike at Lonmin continued at the weekend as talks with Lonmin workers and unions seeking a “peace accord” have been postponed to Monday after two days of government mediated negotiations failed to broker a deal.

In an unrelated development, 12,000 gold miners at South Africa’s Gold Fields mines embarked on a strike over a dispute between union members, on Wednesday night.

“The strike is continuing, the strike has not been resolved,” company spokesman Sven Lunsche told AFP.

Gold Fields, which is listed on the Johannesburg and New York Stock Exchanges, produces 3.5 million gold equivalent ounces a year. It operates eight mines in Australia, Ghana, Peru and South Africa.