October 25th, 2005
The Richtersveld community's battle over its dispossession from a diamond-rich area in South Africa enters what should be the closing stages in the land claims court in Cape Town today, Business Report reported.
The community filed the claim in 1998, lost an initial round, but took the case to the supreme court of appeal and then to the constitutional court, which ruled that it was in fact entitled to restitution.
The current round, which was partly heard in April and May, is to determine the nature of that restitution. Community spokesperson Willem Diergaardt said: "It's been seven or eight years that we've been struggling to finalise this matter, so that we can go on with our lives and normalise.
"We are not weary. We will fight to the bitter end. They say the patience of the Richtersvelders is our greatest asset. We will never get tired."
The claim, in monetary terms the largest lodged under post-1994 land reform laws, involves an 85000 ha strip of arid land along the Northern Cape coast and compensation that could total more than 2.5 billion rand.
The claim includes 1.5 billion rand for diamonds extracted from the land by parastatal Alexkor over three quarters of a century.
When the hearing was postponed in May, judge Antonie Gildenhuys said seven weeks would be set aside for this session. Five of them would be used for further testimony, one to allow the advocates to prepare their arguments, and one to present the arguments in court.
But if the evidence took longer than expected, the hearing might spill over into 2006, he said.
The government, which is challenging the grounds on which the community and its expert witnesses arrived at the amounts sought in compensation, has already spent over 10 million rand in legal fees on the case, while Alexkor has budgeted 4 million rand for its legal fees this year alone.
The impoverished community has filed an application in the court seeking to force the government to give it the funds it needs to finish the case.