Squeezed out by power

2013-08-18 14:00

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Landowners blame President Jacob Zuma and Russian billionaire

Eighty-three North West landowners have lost their mining rights – and they blame President Jacob Zuma and Russian oligarch and football boss Roman Abramovich.

The residents of Uitvalgrond, outside Brits, say they have been battling the department of mineral resources for years to stop Evraz Vametco from acquiring the absolute right to mine on their land.

Abramovich is the major shareholder in Evraz plc, which owns the vanadium mine in the mineral rich North West.

The billionaire also owns Highveld Steel in Witbank through Evraz.

The Vametco mine was granted a new order right to mine for vanadium on November 15 last year, executed on April 10 this year.

The residents have turned to the president for help – to no avail, they say.

A letter addressed to Zuma and dated August 12 2012 states how the 83 families came to own the land and how, in recent years, they have been systematically dispossessed.

“Recently, in order to continue with its mining activities ... Vametco has been attempting to convert the old order mining rights held by our client into new order mining rights under the Mining and Petroleum Resources Development Act and held by it ...” wrote the landowners’ legal representative, Peter Tshisevhe.

At issue are the proceeds of vanadium mining. Not only have the families been rejected in their bid to become Evraz Vametco’s equity partner, but they will now receive no royalties.

Trevor Hattingh, a spokesperson for the mineral resources department, said they had no record of the landowners’ application for new order mining rights.

“They were not holders of the old order rights either,” he said.

He also denied that the community was involved in attempts to engage the department on the issue.

But the landowners have records of communication, including letters, emails and minutes of meetings held between the department and them, which City Press has seen.

A letter from the then department of land affairs, dated January 20 2006, states that the community’s property rights are respected and protected by the Constitution.

“The community’s land and mineral rights are thus protected by the relevant legislation administered by the department of land affairs and the department of mineral resources.”

The mineral resources department also engaged the landowners’ lawyer in 2011, stating that “we finally managed to meet them (Vametco) on January 19 2011”.

The letter stated that the meeting was “not fruitful” and that the department “emphasised” issues of compliance with the Mining Charter.

Evraz Vametco was sent a list of questions, to which Evraz Highveld responded.

“Evraz Vametco was the holder of the old order mining right at the time of the application for conversion.

“It was the holder of the old order mining right in terms of a mineral lease with the landowners,” said

Thea-Lynn MacLeod, the spokesperson for Highveld Steel.

Evraz at a glance

Evraz Vametco Alloys has been mining vanadium on the Uitvalgrond farm and the adjacent Krokodil Kraal since early 2000.

Vametco is a subsidiary of Evraz plc, a Russian multinational steel making and mining company that’s listed on the London Stock Exchange.

Evraz is owned by three wealthy Russian oligarchs.

The largest stake, 31%, belongs to Russian billionaire and Chelsea FC owner, Roman Abramovich.

In 2007, Evraz plc acquired a stake in Highveld Steel and Vanadium Corporation, which is South Africa’s second-largest steel maker and the world’s leading vanadium supplier.

Earlier this year, Evraz Highveld Steel announced that a newly registered black economic empowerment consortium,

Nemascore, was bidding for a stake in the steel manufacturer. Nemascore’s directors include Linda Makhathini, who is also a director of the Jacob Zuma Children’s Fund.

She was one of President Jacob Zuma’s legal advisers during Schabir Shaik’s trial.

Nemascore was registered in February with two other directors, Pathmananthan Alwar and Bruce Manuel.

The company bid to purchase 85% of Evraz Highveld Steel for R2.8 billion. Makathini said that she was not at liberty to discuss the transaction between Nemascore and Highveld Steel.

“The matter is subject to a mutually binding confidentiality agreement,” she said.

Nemascore’s registered address is the Sandton office of Michael Hulley’s law firm. Hulley is Zuma’s legal adviser.

While the Highveld Steel deal is not directly connected to Evraz Vametco, sources close to the landowners are linking the two transactions because the companies have the same main shareholder, Evraz.

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