South African herders wins back diamond-rich ancestral land

A South African indigenous group that was forcibly removed from diamond-rich land in the early 1900s won back ownership rights, a decision that could result in millions of dollars in compensation for 75 years of diamond mining, Agence France-Presse (AFP) reports.

South Africa’s highest court ruled in favor of the some 3,000-strong Richtersveld Community after a five-year court battle with a state diamond mining company, Alexkor, AFO reports.

“The Richtersveld Community is entitled … to restitution of the right to ownership of the subject land (including its minerals and precious stones) and to the exclusive beneficial use and occupation thereof,” the court judgment reportedly stated.

The Richtersvelders are descendents of the San people, also known as Bushmen, the original inhabitants of southern Africa.

The Constitutional Court judges unanimously awarded land and mineral ownership to the community that lived in the Richtersveld area in the Northern Cape, which includes a narrow strip of mineral-rich land along the Orange River that forms the border between South Africa and Namibia.

The court found that the state dispossessed the Richtersveld Community of its land in the 1920s as a result of racially discriminatory laws. Alexkor currently mines the land and adjacent seabed for the South African government.

“We are of the view that the real character of the title that the Richtersveld Community possessed in the subject land was a right of communal ownership under indigenous law,” the judgment reportedly stated.

The Constitutional Court ruling confirmed a ruling by the Supreme Court of Appeal in March this year in favor of the Richtersveld Community, the AFP reports. The Supreme Court of Appeal reversed an earlier Land Claims Court decision.

“The Supreme Court of Appeal found that in the 1920s, when diamonds were discovered on the subject land, the rights of the Richtersveld Community were ignored by the state which dispossessed them,” the judgment reportedly stated.

Attorney Henk Smith, of the Legal Resources Centre, which represented the Richtersveld Community, said they were entitled to “the transfer of ownership rights as well as compensation, and the value of the diamonds that have been mined in the past 75 years has to be taken into account.”

Speaking to AFP, he added: “You have to look at how much compensation the community would have received had they been the owners in the past 75 years.”

He declined to state an amount, but said: “It is a good deal more than the current value of the mine which is between nil and 400 million rand ($57 million).”

Smith addded: “This is a dramatic ruling. It is the first time that a South African court gives content to people’s rights in terms of customary law in such a significant way.”

Alexkor secretary Peter Williams reportedly said the company has already entered into negotiations with the community, and would continue trying to make a deal.

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