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S. African Herders Win Back Rights to Land

October 15, 2003|Associated Press

JOHANNESBURG, South Africa — A black community of sheep herders won a lengthy legal battle Tuesday over its claim to diamond-rich land that was confiscated more than 70 years ago by a white-run South African government.

The area is still rich in diamonds, and the 3,000 people of the Richtersveld community could become rich from the Constitutional Court ruling. They still must negotiate how much the government will pay them for future mining.

Their lawyers also plan to go back to the Land Claims Court to seek compensation for more than 70 years of diamond mining.

The community, whose ancestors grazed their sheep and goats in the area for centuries, planned to celebrate with a church service and barbecue.

"We will party till the sun comes up," said Floors Strauss, 45, secretary of the Richtersveld Communal Property Assn., which filed the case.

The families, which were ejected in the 1920s, were awarded mineral rights held by the state mining company, Alexkor Ltd.

The unanimous decision ends five years of legal wrangling -- much of it over the mineral rights attached to the 210,000 acres of land, 370 miles north of Cape Town.

The government confiscated the land in 1923, transferring ownership to Alexkor in 1991.

After the apartheid regime ended in 1994, the Land Claims Court was set up to help restore ownership to millions forcibly removed from their homes under racist laws.

The Richtersveld herders lost a claim filed in 1998 but took the case to the Supreme Court of Appeals, which ruled in their favor. The Constitutional Court confirmed the decision.

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