Two Limpopo communities say the Department of Mineral Resources illegally granted exploration rights to mining companies on land for which they have applied for restitution.
Fifteen years after their land restitution claim, the Leshiba and Machete communities still haven’t received all their land back.
After the communities had lodged separate claims for numerous farms in the Soutpansberg area of Limpopo in 1998, only part of the land was returned to the communities.
They now blame the Department of Mineral Resources (DMR) for granting exploration rights to mining companies without their knowledge.
Spokesman for the Leshiba community Edward Raselabe said the Restitution of Land Rights Act of 1994 prohibited transactions on land that was being claimed.
The Mineral Resources Department and the Department of Rural Development and Land Reform in Limpopo dispute Raselabe’s interpretation of the law.
“The Mineral and Petroleum Resources Development Act does not prohibit the granting of a right over land where there is a claim,” said DMR spokesman Trevor Hattingh.
The prospecting rights were granted to Mvelaphanda Exploration, JMM Mponokie Sekoko JV, Motjoli Resources and Bono Lithini Investment Group.
Hattingh said mining companies had a responsibility to consult the communities.
Based on the advice from the Land Claims Commission, mining companies had to notify land claimants when they have lodged prospecting or mining right applications and after the rights had been granted. That, however, did not “constitute prohibition of applications”, said Hattingh.
But spokesman for the land reform department in Limpopo Nicholas Magada said he was unaware of the applications for prospecting rights in question.
“The commission is only aware of (an application by) Coal of Africa,” said Magada.
Coal of Africa operates the Vele Mine, also claimed by the Machete community.
Hattingh expressed surprise that the land reform department was unaware of the granting of the mining rights.
“This (the application) is done consistently, and it is thus not clear why the land reform and rural development departments claim (to be unaware) of the prospecting rights that have been granted,” said Hattingh.
Apart from JMM Mponokie Sekoko JV, which hasn’t replied to requests for comment, all four companies maintain they consulted all interested parties.
Raselabe denies there were any consultations. “Nobody came to us about prospecting rights,” said Raselabe.
Bono Lithini Investment group went behind their backs to obtain the exploration rights, he added.
He said Bono Lithini had initially offered to help expedite their land claim process.
“The next thing we learnt that they had prospecting rights, behind our back,” said Raselabe.
Ofhani Phaswana, a Bono Lithini director, said he had offered to help fast-track the land claim process in his personal capacity.
“I gave them my cars, I personally paid when (the land claims commission) did inspections,” said Phaswana.
He confirmed his company was granted prospecting rights and insisted communities were consulted.