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Thursday Apr 05, 2012

Dispute over North West mining land worth billions

A lucrative land claim is threatening the riches of one of the wealthiest communities in the North West while they are engaged in leadership squabbles.

The land belonging to the Bapo ba Mogale community.

The Bapo ba Mogale community in Bapong village near Brits, which owns huge portions of land valued at about R10 billion on which massive mining operations have been taking place for more than 30 years, might forfeit some of their lucrative mining royalties if they fail in their dispute of the claim.

The land is rich with platinum, vanadium, chrome and other mineral deposits.

The Bapo ba Mogale have been involved in bitter leadership tussles now before the courts and have seen infighting within the royal family.

This led to an administrator being appointed to handle the affairs of the community and their royalties being paid directly to the North West provincial government.

If the land claim succeeds, it will see massive losses of income for the community. The Pretoria News can confirm that Lonmin, one of the mining companies in the area, is paying or has already paid about R500 million into the Bapo ba Mogale trust account for the mining royalties, with a further R40m annually paid into a different account for development projects.

The Regional Land Claims Commission (RLCC) for North West and Gauteng confirmed this week that the claim was investigated and found to be valid, but had now been referred to court.

"The Wonderkop community lodged a land claim for portions 1, 3, 4, 5 and 6 of the farm Wonderkop 400 JQ. The farm is located in Rustenburg, Bojanala District, in the North West province.

"The land claim was researched and was found to be compliant in terms of Section 2 of the Restitution Act 22 as amended," said RLCC spokesman Trevor Tshikhudo.

The claim is one of 83 land claims being processed by the department in North West while 270 claims are being processed in Gauteng. According to the department, there are several other land claims around the Bapong village, including in areas such as Schaapskraal and Rooikoppies.

Though the department is yet to value the land in question, Bapo ba Mogale stand to lose a lot if they fail in their dispute.

This would probably mean that Lonmin and other prospecting rights owners would have to renegotiate surface rights with the new owners and render the previous contracts with the Bapo ba Mogale null and void.

The money paid by Lonmin is being held by the provincial government in the absence of proper governance structures in Bapong.

"The department has not yet commissioned evaluation on the property as there is still a dispute involving the property.

"Once the dispute is resolved, commission of the evaluation of the property will be the next phase," said Tshikhudo.

Lonmin's vice-president for external affairs, Barnard Mokwena, said they were aware of the claim and had been monitoring it from a distance.

"Lonmin does not determine land ownership when there is such a claim. This appears to be a matter for the courts to decide," said Mokwena.

The company had not been affected negatively by the claim even though it had binding contracts with the Bapo ba Mogale, Mokwena said.

But he declined to comment on how much these contracts were worth, pending the outcome of the court process.

One of the Wonderkop community members with an interest in the claim, Peter Ramaboa, said he was frustrated over how long it was taking to settle the matter.

According to Ramaboa, the land had been dubiously transferred to the Bapo ba Mogale royal family by the apartheid government as early as the 1920s.

"This claim is not about just trying to make money. It's about returning to the people what is rightfully ours, the land which was occupied by our forefathers before they were forcefully removed by the old government and land given to people who had no right to it," said Ramaboa.

He also claimed that among the claimants themselves there were disagreements about which portions belonged to which party, and that other members of the community who had no claims to the land had managed to include themselves as claimants.

Attempts to get comment from the Bapo ba Mogale administrator, Thabo Lerefolo, were unsuccessful.

Hugh Eiser, an attorney for the Bapo ba Mogale, but who the provincial government is refusing to recognise as their legal representative, has downplayed the claim.

"There is not even a beginning of a claim in this matter. There is a report by the same commission saying this claim is valid and there was no evidence of a racially based dispossession of this land.

"This claim should have been put to bed long time ago," said Eiser.

Pretoria News


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