style=’MARGIN: 0in 0in 0pt’>South Africa’s richest tribe said on Monday the black-majority government’s plan to seize mineral rights was comparable with the land seizures of former apartheid rulers, Reuters reported.
The 300,000-strong Royal Bafokeng nation, whose wealth is founded on its platinum-rich lands in northwest South Africa, took out full-page ads in national newspapers to condemn new mining laws proposed by Pretoria.
Drawing parallels with forced land expropriations by white-minority governments and Boer republics of the nineteenth century, the Bafokeng said the bill would rob them of royalties paid by the world’s biggest miners.
Pretoria’s draft Minerals Development Bill aims to vest all mineral rights and royalties in state hands, potentially leaving the Bafokeng dependent on ministerial discretion for future royalty payments worth millions of dollars a year.
“It is a tragic irony that the mineral rights in such hard-won land, acquired in the face of dispossession and opposition to land ownership by blacks on the part of Boer and colonial authorities and later of successive (white) Nationalist (party) governments, should now face expropriation without compensation,” Reuters reported the Royal Bafokeng saying.
The Bafokeng, or “the people of the dew,” earn royalties from miners Impala Platinum and Anglo American Platinum who extract the white metal used in luxury jewelry from the more than 1,250 square mile of land owned by the tribe.
The tribe warned they faced “incalculable harm” and “profound and devastating implications” from the loss of the royalties, which have funded an enviable social development program that includes modern hospitals and schools, Reuters reported.
Government minerals spokesman Kanyo Gqulu said the proposed bill was still open for discussion, Reuters reported.
The Setswana-speaking Bafokeng tribe were able to secure their lands through their ingenuity and the benevolence of Christian missionaries from the 1850s, when no one knew of the future mineral wealth locked below the soil.
To get around laws prohibiting black landownership, missionaries put the land into their own names and ensured the land was held for the tribe in trust.
Bafokeng tribesmen, who arrived in the region in the sixteenth century from modern-day Botswana, sold their precious cattle and worked in the new diamond mines of Kimberley to finance the original land purchases.
“The royalties from the land are vital…We have used them to re-buy more adjacent farms,” a Bafokeng spokesman told Reuters.
Modern-day support for the Bafokeng’s position on the mine bill came from miner Impala, the world’s second biggest producer of platinum which has also objected to the proposed bill.
“We support the concerns they have about lack of clarity in the bill. We believe that the Bafokeng have used the royalty to uplift their community,” said Impala spokeswoman Cathie Markus.
Some 80% of the land mined by Impala, which produces more than 1.1 million ounces a year of platinum, is owned by the Bafokeng. Under a groundbreaking deal in 1999, Impala and the Bafokeng reached an agreement on royalty payments which included the transfer of one million shares-worth $36 million at current prices-to the tribe and board representation.