Judge recuses himself from R99bn mineral rights case

2010-10-07 10:21

Agri SA’s legal bid to claim damages for farmers whom it says suffered as a result of mineral rights falling under the control of the state, has been halted.

Acting Judge Hans-Joachim Fabricius today recused himself, saying that among a “bundle” of documents he was given by legal counsel yesterday was a letter that he had recognised from a 2006 matter on which he was asked to give an opinion in relation to Mineral Petroleum Resources Development Act.

“I have no recollection of what my opinion had been and why. But it is very important for the sake of justice there should be no reasonable perception on anyone’s side that I cannot bring an objective view to the present issues.”

He said he believed he would have been able to make an objective decision, but that in the interest of transparency he had decided to recuse himself from the case and refer the matter to the deputy judge president.

Agri SA was seeking damages on behalf of its members from Mineral Resources Minister Susan Shabangu as it claims the mineral rights its members owned were expropriated by the government when the Mineral Petroleum Resources Development Act became effective on May 1 2004.

According to the government, the law makes the state the custodian of the country’s mineral wealth for the benefit of all South Africans.

The court was told on Tuesday that the effect of the new Mineral and Petroleum Resources Act was tantamount to institutional expropriation because mineral rights did not exist any more.

Agri SA was seeking an order to declare that the coal mining rights on an Mpumalanga farm had been expropriated and that the mining company that had bought, but never used the rights, should be compensated for its loss.

The claim was estimated to be worth at least R750 000, but formed part of claims totalling R99 billion, including R44 billion for unclaimed rights.

The government maintains the act did not amount to the expropriation of rights, that compensation for unused rights would place an unnecessary financial burden on resources and prevent it from going ahead with land reform and other planned legislation, including legislation on water rights.

Shabangu, who attended today’s proceedings, declined to comment, saying that the case was still before the court, even though the judge had recused himself. 

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