The Richtersveld Community
In the Richtersveld, the Sida !hub Communal Property Association (CPA) was formed to make a land claim on the Alexcor property, which extended for 85 000 hectares along the coast between Port Nolloth and Alexander Bay. This was duly lodged before the specified date of 31 December 1998 and heard by the Land Claims Court in 2000.
The plaintiffs in the case comprised various local communities and stakeholders, namely the Richtersveld community, the Kuboes community, the Sanddrift community, the Lekkersing community, the Eksteenfontein community and the adult members of the Richtersveld Community.
Due to the valuable nature of the claim, it was fiercely contested by Alexcor Limited and the government of the Republic of South Africa.
The defendants (Alexcor and the government) threw everything they had at the Richtersvelders. It was said that they weren’t a real community; that they didn’t ‘beneficially’ inhabit the land because they were nomadic; that they had been deprived of the land by virtue of the 1847 annexation of Namaqualand which fell outside the mandated 1913 cut-off date.
Although most of these tactics failed to win support with the judges, the 2001 judgement did rule that the claim was invalid. This was primarily because the court found that the community had not been removed from the land as a result of any ‘racially discriminatory laws’, since white farmers and prospectors had also been removed by the same process.
In Favour of the Community
This finding was appealed and the Supreme Court of Appeal overturned the Land Court’s decision, finding that "their dispossession resulted from a racially discriminatory practice in that it was based upon and proceeded from the premise that due to their lack of civilisation, to which their race was inextricably linked, the Richtersveld people had no rights in the subject land". Round 2 to the Richtersvelders.
But Alexcor and the government appealed the appeal and took the case to the Constitutional Court. The ConCourt also found in favour of the community and the land was finally and unequivocally granted to the people of the Richtersveld in 2003. Several years of negotiation followed until, in April 2007, an agreement was reached between Alexcor and the Richtersveld community.
Then, just weeks before the whole deal went before the Land Claims Court for final ratification, a dissident group of Richtersvelders lodged a complaint against the already-signed contract. Apparently, there were some problematic clauses and it was claimed that the wider community had not been consulted about the details of the deal.
A Great Occasion
For a few nerve-wracking weeks, it looked like it could all go pear-shaped. But last minute negotiations successfully resolved the crisis and on the 9th of October 2007, Land Claims Court Judge Antonie Gildenhuys confirmed the revised settlement. The legal battle had taken almost 10 years and cost the government more than R50 million, but the people of the Richtersveld had triumphed.
On the 1st of December 2007, Public Enterprises Minister Alec Erwin (who was the man responsible for contesting the claim) and Land Affairs Minister Lulu Xingwana formally handed over the title deeds to the land to the Richtersveld leaders.
The Final Settlement
The final settlement, which is worth well over R440 million, is intended to provide the community with some sort of reparations for all the diamonds previously extracted from their land.
It also looks to the future by establishing a financial foundation for future development. More importantly, perhaps, it properly acknowledges the land rights of the Richtersveld people for the first time in modern history.
In this sense, the legal battle was about more than money. It was about giving the Richtersvelders a new sense of pride in their cultural identity, and this has already led to the rejuvenation of once-neglected traditions.
Briefly, the main terms of the Alexcor deal are as follows: The state will hand over 194 600 ha of land, including the crucial 84 000 ha of diamond territory along the coast and a strip of fertile land along the Orange River, which currently supports citrus, oyster and ostrich farms. It will also give the community an ‘extraordinary reparation payment’ of R190 million plus a development grant of R50 million.
Furthermore, the Richtersvelders and Alexcor will enter into a joint mining venture, in which the community will hold a 49% interest. This part of the deal isn’t as great as it sounds because Alexcor has been losing money for quite a few years. However, the stability of the settlement will now allow the state to invest up to R200 billion in a much needed recapitalisation programme.
And there’s more! The Alexcor-owned town of Alexander Bay will be transferred to the community, and Alexcor will pay R45-million to allow its staff to remain there for the next 10 years. Plus, thanks to the efforts of those ‘dissident’ community members, all Alexcor's obligations are now underwritten by the state, particularly with regard to the rehabilitation of the landscape after decades of mining (which could cost many additional millions).
So, it’s good news all round. But exactly what exactly is this ‘community’ who will reap all the rewards? Well, the ownership of the land first had to be determined in terms of the ‘Transformation of Certain Rural Areas act of 1998’.
Under this act, communities could decide whether the ownership of the former ‘coloured reserve’ land should be lodged with a Communal Property Association (CPA), given over to a local municipality, or split up and granted to individual owners.
A Bright Future
In 2002, the various communities within the Richtersveld voted to transfer ownership of the land to a CPA which would own and administer the land on behalf of the people. This entity had already been established the previous year as the Sida !Hub CPA.
It includes every adult member of the four Richtersveld towns of Eksteenfontein, Kuboes, Lekkersing and Sanddrif, where adult members are those over the age of 18 who have lived in any of the towns for five years or more.
The aims of the CPA include ‘improvement of the infrastructure, development of agriculture, tourism, and economic opportunities to support job creation, and capacity building of committee members so that they can make the right decisions on behalf of the community’.
To accomplish all this, the CPA has set up 4 commercial companies to run their considerable interests. There’s an agricultural company that’s going to develop the farms along the Orange River. An environmental rehabilitation company is going to reverse the damage done by years of mining. A property holding company is going to be responsible for renting out the houses in Alexander Bay. And there’s a mining company that will administer the community’s 49% holding in Alexcor.
The proceeds from those 4 companies go into a development company and a community trust. Each division of the CPA has community directors, one from each town, as well as independent directors who are appointed either by the CPA or its trustees. The Richtersveld Community Conservancy has also been set up to oversee the tourism and environmental activities of the CPA. So, the future is looking bright for the Richtersvelders.
There are several developments in the pipeline for the Richtersveld. The ailing Alexcor is about to be revitalised and discussions have been held with both De Beers and Transhex to amalgamate and/or establish a joint diamond cutting and processing plant which will create employment.
The Sida !Hub CPA is also embarking on a number of new development projects. These include the improvement of infrastructure and public services, entrepreneurial loans for small business people, and an agricultural school.
Of course, tourism initiatives rank high on the agenda and the Conservancy is busy developing visitor centres, museums and a range of exciting tourism activities. So, get out there and visit the Richtersveld. It’s not just an amazing travel experience, it’s an active contribution to the rebirth of a much-maligned community.
By David Fleminger