Infighting rocks community’s struggle for diamond riches

2010-10-10 15:23

The Northern Cape rural community of Schmidtsdrift, 70km from Kimberley, has taken a mining company to court to fight for R8 million in unpaid royalties.

The company, New African Mining (NAM), registered in the British Virgin Islands, this week sent 100 workers home, telling them they would have to wait three weeks to learn their fate.

In August last year the company retrenched 180 employees, and the community – the Batlhaping and Griqua clans of Schmidtsdrift – is claiming R5,6 million in unpaid ­salaries for the 180 workers.

They are also suing for R30 million in damages related to the ­mining companies’ failure to rehabilitate land damaged by mining ­activities.

NAM is the third company to mine diamonds in Schmidtsdrift.

The New Diamond Corporation (NDC), owned by Gauteng businessman Tiego Moseneke, was set up in 2001. NDC sold to Lonrho Mining SA and NAM took over last year when Lonrho was placed under provisional liquidation.

The Schmidtsdrift Communal Property Association (SCPA), a body representing the Batlhaping and Griqua clans, holds a 20% shareholding from mining operations and a further 5% in royalties on gross diamond sales.

In August both clans called for the dissolution of the SCPA’s executive committee.

This was on the grounds that it had failed to disclose annual financial results or represent the interests of the clans.
They accused its members of ­general mismanagement.

However, infighting and accusations of poor financial management are marring the community’s fight for compensation.

The Griqua clan, through the Fonteintjie Community Development Trust, has accused the executive committee of discriminating against them on racial grounds.

Leonardo Steenkamp, who represents the Fonteintjie Community Development Trust, is accusing the executive committee of being dominated by the Batlhaping clan.

At the centre of the row is the authorisation of an application to transfer a sectional permit from the NDC to NAM.

Steenkamp accuses the executive committee of authorising the application even when they knew it could cause the claimants to forfeit any claims they had against NAM.

Kagiso Jogom, who is a member of the Batlhaping Tswana Trust and a member of the SCPA, downplays the racism allegations, saying the fact that both the Griqua and Batlhaping clans have taken the decision to dissolve the executive committee is a sign that they are working together.

Jogom says they support the Fonteintjie Trust’s decision to challenge the transfer of the mining permit.

The move by NAM to suspend 100 workers this week has fuelled fears that NAM might be in financial ­trouble and might not be able to meet its financial obligations to the clans.

But Steenkamp says they are not worried about this week’s developments.

“We are more worried about the fact that they are sitting with diamonds worth R3 million which they have not sold,” he says.

Repeated attempts to contact NAM director Fernando Carocou have proved fruitless.

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