New challenge may sour Richtersveld deal

A group of Richtersveld residents is to challenge a settlement agreement with the government when the document goes before the Land Claims Court in Cape Town next week for ratification.

Public Enterprises Minister Alec Erwin and representatives of the Richtersveld Sida !hub Communal Property Association (CPA) signed the agreement in April this year. It followed a 10-year court battle by the Richtersvelders for the restoration of land taken by the state when diamonds were discovered south of Alexander Bay in the 1920s.

The agreement must, however, be ratified by the court, which is sitting for three days next week to hear the matter.

It has emerged that a Richtersveld “action committee” plans to oppose the agreement, and has briefed Lawyers for Human Rights (LHR) to act on its behalf.

LHR national director Rudolph Jansen said on Thursday the committee will ask the court next week for leave to take part in the proceedings. If it is given permission, it will argue that the agreement should not be made a court order.

He said the most important reason is that the committee believes many aspects of it has not been properly negotiated with the community at large, and that the Richtersvelders need to know all their options and choices.
Other reasons include its lack of detail on land-use issues.

According to Jansen, the committee represents a “fairly broad group of people”.

A CPA leader, Piet Cloete, said the association does not believe that the committee is a real threat to finalisation of the agreement.

He confirmed that negotiators for the community and the state have reached consensus on the terms of a diamond-mining “pooling and sharing” joint venture, in which state-owned mining company Alexkor would hold a 51% share and the community the rest.

One change from the terms envisaged in the April agreement is that the community would participate in Alexkor’s mining activities from the date the agreement is made a court order, rather than when mining rights are transferred to the community, as originally envisaged.

Erwin said earlier this month that he would make a major statement on Alexkor after the agreement was finalised in court.

The agreement was adopted at an emotionally charged Richtersveld community meeting in May that was followed by a split between the CPA and the Legal Resources Centre, which had been representing the community. The centre believed that the terms offered by Erwin were not in the community’s best interests.

The state has spent about R50-million fighting the Richtersvelders’ claim to the land, and their demand for restitution for the diamonds taken from it over generations.

Judge Antonie Gildenhuys suspended the court case last year to allow the community, government and Alexkor to negotiate.—Sapa

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