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Diamonds split community

Aug 20 2017 06:00
Lesetja Malope

Two land-claimant communities that are beneficiaries of diamond-rich land in the Northern Cape are at each other’s throats.

At the centre of the feud are allegations of an illegal mining ring, which has allegedly pocketed diamonds worth R300 million, as well as made itself guilty of human rights violations, including racism. These allegations are contained in a bulky affidavit filed with the Northern Cape High Court by the Fonteintjie Development Trust, representing one of the two communities.

The Fonteintjie Development Trust, representing the Griqua people and the Batlhaping Tswana, allegedly mostly represented by the Schmidtsdrift Communal Property Association (SCPA), are at loggerheads after the two communities – who were forcefully removed in 1968 – successfully lodged a land claim that was concluded in 2000.

The SCPA was subsequently formed to regulate issues relating to the use of the land and both communities were partners in the association before relations soured over allegations of ill treatment, tribalism and dodgy business dealings with the mining companies and the Fonteintjie Trust disassociated itself.

Now, the ongoing dispute between the two communities is set to worsen after the high court this month set the matter down for hearing in November after the Fonteintjie Trust – represented by its chairperson, Petrus Moss – lodged an application to have all mining activities on the land stopped, among a number of reliefs sough.

The affidavit, whose application also cites the department of mineral resources DMR) as one of the respondents, states that government has been alerted several times to illegal mining on the land and officials have even been to the operations, but nothing has come of that.

The trust also wants total suspension of all mining operations in the area until a full-scale investigation has been conducted and monies due to it paid.

One of the companies cited as a respondent and also at the centre of a number of allegations, some of which were later withdrawn, is the New Diamond Corporation (NDC), which has seen 30 directors resign over the years, but currently has four directors. Benjamin Gabay, one of the directors, confirmed that allegations against the company by the trust were later withdrawn.

The rift between the companies has even prompted the Fonteintjie Trust to lodge a complaint at the SA Human Rights Commission (SAHRC) and its community is set to be visited by the commission soon.

SAHRC spokesperson Gail Smith confirmed that the commission would be visiting the community.

“The purpose of the inspection is to establish the facts in the matters and to determine whether there is a human rights violation and if the SAHRC is the appropriate institution to investigate same,” she said.

Schmidtsdrift comprises six contiguous farms along the western bank of the Vaal River and it’s the area where one of the biggest diamonds ever was mined a few years ago.

Moss, speaking to City Press, said the community just wanted what was due to them and the unfair treatment to stop. “All we want is fairness,” he said.

Chairperson of the SCPA Phineas Tshite said there was no collusion with any company, but that the SCPA had a legitimate contract with one of the companies to mine in the area. Tshite also disputed that the profits made from the mining was in the region of R300 million. Further questions sent to Tshite as per agreement were not received at the time of going to print.

The DMR, which was also accussed of turning a blind eye to the illegal mining, disputed the allegation: “The alleged illegal mining took place on the boundry of zones 15 and 16 and was resolved by NDC and the SCPA at a board meeting. The matter was only brought to the attention of the department after the parties had already reached an agreement.”

The DMR also confirmed that it had suspended the mining rights of NDC because it had received a complaint from the SCPA that NDC had ceded the right to another company other than the one that had been agreed on.

According to a published report on the Schmidtsdrift land claim by the Commission on Restitution of Land Rights, the claimant community consisted of approximately 800 households, some of which were scattered across Kuruman, Douglas, Campbell, Galeshewe and Kimberley.

In 1992, the Batlhaping lodged its land claim of the 31 816 square metres of land and it was settled eight years later, in 2000, but excluded several properties.

These disputes included some about racial discrimination; employment of only Tswana people in various capacities, including the mining operations; differences in salaries that were paid to members of the respective communities who were employed in the mining operations; the implementation or non-implementation of various development plans; the addressing of environmental concerns from the Fonteintjie Trust; and stock losses suffered by the trust as a result of mining activities.

northern cape  |  land claims
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