SOUTH AFRICA: Tribe Wins Rights to Diamond-Rich Land

Publisher Name: 
The Guardian (London)

Johannesburg - A South African tribal community robbed of its land in
the 19th century yesterday won a court battle to
regain land and mineral rights to diamonds that could
be worth billions of pounds.

The Nama community in Richtersveld are former goat
herders who today mostly live in tin shacks without
electricity. The constitutional court in Johannesburg
ruled that the Nama had been cleared from their land
under racist laws and had a legitimate claim to
ownership - including the mineral rights to the
lucrative diamond mines at Alexander Bay on the
north-west coast.

The ruling was a potentially severe blow to the
government which argued it would lose hundreds of
millions of pounds of revenue if the state diamond
company, Alexkor, lost the mineral rights.

But the court threw out Alexkor's controversial
attempt to use colonial-era laws which claimed the
Nama were too uncivilised to own land.

Community members wept and applauded when they heard
news of the victory, said a spokesman, Floors Strauss.
Numbering around 4,000 people scattered in four
impoverished villages near the Namibian border, the
community would use the expected bonanza to create
jobs by developing agriculture and industry, said Mr
Strauss.

"We don't want to get rich quick. We are solely
thinking about the long-term future for us and the
children who will come after us."

It was not clear when and how the court ruling would
translate into benefits for the Nama, since it
established that they had a legitimate claim to the
land, as opposed to confirming ownership.

Henk Smith, a lawyer representing the Nama, suggested
they would file a claim for restoration of ownership
and financial compensation with the land claims court
or negotiate a deal with the state.

The government had warned that redirecting diamond
revenue could blow a 870m hole in the budget but the
minerals and energy minister, Phumzile Mlambo-Ngcuka,
put a brave face on yesterday's ruling, saying it was
"not a train smash". She added: "It just means that
the mine and the people must work together."

The Nama lost ownership of their land when the Cape
Colony annexed the area in 1847. When alluvial diamond
deposits were found in the 1920s the government
cleared the community from around 85,000 hectares
(210,000 acres) around Orange river.

The apartheid regime maintained that policy, as did
the African National Congress government, claiming
that the greater good was served by sharing the
diamond wealth with the nation.

A restitution claim lodged by the Richtersveld
community in 1998 was dismissed by the land claims
court in 2001 but they won when the case was referred
to the supreme court of appeal. The joint appeal to
the constitutional court by Alexkor and the government
was rejected with costs.

AMP Section Name:Natural Resources