Govt defends cost of Richtersveld case

The multimillion-rand cost of fighting the Richtersveld land claim was money well spent, the Department of Public Enterprises said on Wednesday.

It was responding to a query on the final legal bill for the case, which was settled last week when the Land Claims Court ratified the essentials of an agreement between the community and the government.

The department said the case had been a complex one, spanning almost a decade.

”Given that the case was recently settled, we are unable to calculate any final costs at present,” it said.

”What we can affirm is the cost of litigation was indeed money well spent.

”As the biggest land-claim settlement in the history of South Africa, this settlement allows the community to received debt-free assets.

”It also enables the community to exercise their rights as landowners with respect to future land mining and creates a basis for future development and wealth creation for the Richtersveld.”

The Richtersvelders’ legal team estimated in late 2005 that by that stage the government had already spent about R50-million on the case.

The estimate was made during a successful application to get the government to cover the community’s R5,4-million legal costs as well as its own.

The government set aside R17-million for its own costs in 2005 alone. This included the expenses of five counsel — three for the state, and two for diamond parastatal Alexkor — in court appearances.

Since the application was granted, lawyers for the two sides have been involved in drawn-out settlement negotiations.

In a full-page newspaper advertisement following the settlement, the department said of the community last week: ”We salute their long and just struggle for their rights.”

The community launched its claim in 1997, since when it has been involved in a string of cases, in which the department and Alexkor fought them all the way to the Constitutional Court.

The settlement will see the state hand over to the community 194 600ha, including the strip of diamond-bearing land being mined by Alexkor.

The state will also pay out R245-million in an ”extraordinary reparation payment” and a development grant, and the Richtersvelders and Alexkor will enter into a joint mining venture. — Sapa

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