A group of 45 artisanal miners protested outside the Koffiefontein Magistrate’s Court on Wednesday after they were arrested for trespassing and malicious damage to property. Picture: Norma Wildenboer
Kimberley - Forty-five artisanal diamond miners appeared in the Koffiefontein Magistrate’s Court on Wednesday on charges of trespassing and malicious damage to property after they were arrested while mining in an area that they claim belongs to them.

Members of the Klipkoffie Community Miners (KCM) gathered in protest in front of the court on Wednesday before the group’s appearance. They slammed Kimberley Ekapa Mining Joint Venture (KEM-JV), which owns the nearby Koffiefontein Diamond Mine, claiming that the mining company was “stealing from the community” and was responsible for orchestrating the arrests in an attempt to get its hands on the dumps.

The miners insist that the community of Koffiefontein was given the title deed to the dumps, which they refer to as the “Eskom dumps”, as a “donation” from De Beers in 2005.

KCM chairman, Siphiwe Thipe, said that the miners had arrived at the site on Friday morning, only to be met by more than a dozen heavily-armed KEM-JV security guards who refused them entrance to the dumps.

“We then found a hole in the fence and gained entry to the site, which belongs to us according to the title deeds. However, the security personnel started assaulting and verbally abusing us by hitting our members and telling us they were were going to kill us,” said Thipe.

“Police were then called to the scene and we were arrested and taken to the police station in Koffiefontein, where we spent the night in a cell with no water or blankets.”

The miners said that they were released the following day and given a court date. The case was postponed to next month.

The disgruntled miners claimed that KEM-JV was stealing from the community, saying that it had already removed truckloads of ore from the dumps.

“KEM-JV has no say over these dumps, the area belongs to us - we have the title deeds to prove it. They, however, act like the land belongs to them and charge us with trespassing, while they are the ones trespassing and stealing from us.”

The miners further demanded that their confiscated mining equipment be returned to them immediately.

KEM-JV spokesperson, Gert Klopper, responded to the matter on Wednesday by saying that the miner’s allegations against KEM-JV were “completely unfounded”.

Klopper said that Blue Diamond Mines (Pty) Ltd, trading as Koffiefontein Diamond Mine, a member of the Petra Diamonds Group, held the mining right in respect of the concerned property.

“This mining right was renewed in favour of Blue Diamond Mines (Pty) Ltd for a further period of 30 years earlier this year. There is no knowledge or record of the mining right in respect of this area ever being relinquished by either De Beers, the previous holders of the mining right concerned, or the current owners. The suggestion that the mining area belongs to the illegal miners is desperate, simply incorrect and misleading,” Klopper said.

With regard to Friday’s arrests, Klopper said that armed security personnel defended the boundaries of the area and made no contact with the artisanal miners, either verbally or physically, while waiting for the SAPS to arrive on the scene to effect the arrests.

“It is standard practice that security personnel are armed in the execution of their duties, but in this case no force was used by the guards on the scene,” Klopper said.

He added that the term “artisanal miners” was “misleading” and said that the term “illegal miners” was more accurate.

Klopper confirmed that the company had opened a case of trespassing and malicious damage to property against the miners.

He said that Petra Diamonds and its subsidiaries were committed to the responsible recovery of diamonds in the areas to which the company held the legal mining rights, for the benefit of all stakeholders - notably the local communities - of these mines, through job creation and making a local economic contribution.

“It reserves the right to protect these mining rights and its private property against invasion and illegal exploitation of the resources by individuals and groups that are not legally entitled to do so. It will under no circumstances condone a situation where diamonds are recovered and sold illegally, thereby undermining the state, its employees, other stakeholders and the communities concerned.

“We appreciate the support of authorities, including the SAPS and the courts, in assisting us to carry out our mandate within the framework of the law,” Klopper concluded.

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