The laying of blame on the miners at the British-owned Lonmin platinum mine for the murders of 34 of their colleagues, while none of the police who actually fired the weapons has been arrested or charged, has come as little surprise to those who have followed the history and decay of the once vigorously independent NPA.
The NPA, set up under the country's post-apartheid constitution, had prepared in 2009 to prosecute incoming head of state Zuma for accepting huge bribes from European arms manufacturers. But the NPA's last independent-minded director, Vusi Pikoli, was summarily sacked and replaced by a man who immediately dropped the charges against Zuma before resigning to accept his reward of a judgeship.
Successive NPA directors have been Zuma sycophants, and the latest, Nomgcobo Jiba, seems to have targeted the miners in a bid to ingratiate herself with Zuma and the ruling African National Congress establishment, and deflect from the problems afflicting the former liberation movement. When Jiba was appointed, Zuma expunged the criminal record of her lawyer husband, who had been convicted of looting a client's trust fund.
The Marikana massacre was merely the most dramatic and world-resounding happening in a series of rarely publicised events that have provoked growing rage among ordinary black people whose conditions have improved little since the end of apartheid two decades ago, while they have seen the ANC elite become billionaires and millionaires.
Modern South Africa is blighted by poor education, declining health standards, mass youth unemployment and discontent among those in work who witness the stunning wealth of Zuma and other members of the ANC hierarchy. "Our heroic struggle for liberation has morphed into a selfish struggle for individual gain," says veteran liberal commentator, Allister Sparks. "From idealism to greed in one giant leap for ownkind."
The social and political fallout from the killings at Marikana are likely to be as profound as those that followed the Sharpeville massacre in 1960 when apartheid-era police shot dead 69 black people protesting against race-based passbook laws.
"South Africa is a social, political and economic disaster waiting to happen," says Aubrey Matshiqi, a columnist with Business Day, South Africa's equivalent of the Financial Times. "The anger is there. All you need is one spark and then you will have social and political and economic veld fires burning out of control."
This weekend, South Africa's justice minister Jeff Radebe demanded an explanation about the charges brought against the miners. Although lawyers believe the charges cannot be made to stick, the fact they have been laid at all illustrates the mindset of the ANC top guns and Zuma, who claims the ANC "will rule until Jesus Christ comes again".
Zuma seems certain to face a leadership challenge when the ANC holds its five-yearly national congress in Bloemfontein in December. Support is lining up behind two possible challengers, the moderate deputy leader of the ANC, Kgalema Motlanthe, and the firebrand former leader of the ANC Youth League, Julius Malema, who has accused Zuma of presiding personally over the murder of 34 miners and the wounding of 78 others.
By the time of the ANC meeting, the official inquiry into the Marikana massacre by retired judge Ian Farlam will not have been completed. However, reports in the South African media suggest there were two killing centres at Marikana. In one, a group of striking miners, demanding an increase in their basic salary of R5000 (£385) a month, were surrounded by riot police as they sat on a low, rocky kopje [hill], according to interviews with miners carried out by Peter Alexander, professor of social change at the University of Johannesburg. The events on "the killing kopje" were not recorded by cameramen, unlike those on flatter, lower ground.
The police surrounding the kopje "participated in a premeditated, well-organised slaughter" as helicopters flew overhead, Alexander alleges. Most of the killed miners died on the kopje. "None of the police were injured, and they had automatic weapons."
Pulitzer Prize-winning photographer Greg Marinovich, co-author of the book and Hollywood movie The Bang-Bang Club, which details the grisly side of South Africa's transition to all-race democracy, filmed the events beneath "the killing kopje". Marinovich, who will give evidence to the Farlam inquiry, said some of the miners were shot at close range or crushed by police vehicles. He described as untrue the official police account that the miners were caught in gunfire by police defending themselves against workers armed with spears and pangas (cleaver-like tools).
"Let us be under no illusion. The striking miners are no angels," said Marinovich. "They can be as violent as anyone else in our society. And in an inflamed setting such as at Marikana, probably more so. They are angry, disempowered, feel cheated and want more than a subsistence wage." But, he added, not a single policeman was killed or injured on the day of the massacre.
Marinovich said reports coming out of Lonmin hospitals, from which local and foreign reporters have been denied entry, suggest most of the wounded were shot in their backs. He quoted one miner as saying his dead colleagues in one mortuary could not be recognised because their faces were so badly damaged by bullets or from being run over by armoured cars. "It is becoming clear to this reporter that heavily armed police hunted down and killed the miners in cold blood," said Marinovich. "A minority were killed in the filmed event where police claim they acted in self-defence. The rest was murder on a massive scale."
Marinovich said more than 400 police confronted the striking miners following a few days of skirmishes. The police carried R5 assault rifles, designed for infantry use and incapable of firing rubber bullets.
"The police were clearly deployed in a military manner to take lives, not to deflect possible riotous behaviour," asserted Marinovich, who wandered over "the killing kopje". There he found wild pear flowers growing "among the debris of the carnage and human excrement; a place of horror that has until now remained terra incognita to the public. It could also be the place where the constitution of South Africa has been dealt a mortal blow."
An irony of this turning point in South African history is the reliance of Jiba's National Prosecuting Authority on the old apartheid "common purpose" law to charge nearly 300 platinum miners with murdering their black fellow workers.
This law was used by white apartheid governments against blacks to sentence numerous people for crimes committed directly by a few. Professor Pierre de Vos, one of South Africa's leading constitutional law experts, said the use of the old apartheid powers "represents a flagrant abuse of the criminal justice system in an effort to protect the police and politicians like Jacob Zuma and Police Minister Nathi Mthethwa".
The common purpose was fought by the ANC when it was a liberation movement, accusing the white minority government of using it to turn victims of crime into perpetrators.
The police commissioner said her commanders at Marikana "did nothing wrong" and acted in self-defence, using live bullets after they were fired on by miners and had failed to stop them with water cannons, stun grenades, tear gas and rubber bullets.
The funerals of most of the murdered miners will take place this weekend, potentially sparking more violence and certainly prompting analysis of what has gone wrong with the Rainbow Nation.
Tellingly, Senzeni Zokwana, leader of the main trade union, the ANC-aligned National Union of Mineworkers (NUM), cowered in an armoured police car while his members were being killed. And Cyril Ramaphosa, brilliant founder of the NUM in the 1980s, is now a Lonmin director and one of South Africa's richest businessmen. He has been silent on Marikana, where miners are now defecting in droves to a new non-ANC union, the Association of Mineworkers and Construction Union (AMCU), whose president is Joseph Mathunjwa. Miners accuse the NUM of being more concerned about politics and business than the needs of miners, who say they do not earn enough to feed their families or send their children to school.
Half of all workers in South Africa earn less than R3000 (£250) a month, with many supporting as many as eight people, according to official figures. Zwelinzima Vavi, secretary general of the Congress of South African Trade Unions, said the violence at Marikana did not catch them off guard.
"We have been warning about a ticking time bomb for years," said Vavi. "We have been saying all along that if we don't address the current levels of unemployment, poverty and inequalities at some point, the poor and those who are feeling the pinch will march to our own boardrooms to demand that we do something about their circumstances".