Richtersvelders have plan for sustainability

The R2,5-billion compensation the Richtersveld community is seeking in its land claim is enough to make every head of household a millionaire, with cash to spare.

But if they do get what they want, they will not all suddenly be driving 4X4s, said the secretary of the Richtersveld Communal Property Association, Floors Strauss.

"We stated it numerous times publicly that we will not make individuals rich," he said on Thursday during a break in the Land Claims Court hearing in Cape Town.

"We will not drive around with Mercedes-Benz cars. We will not give cash handouts. We're going to use the compensation to make sure that we will provide jobs, that we will educate our younger people, our kids, to make sure that we will develop a sustainable Richtersveld."

The community, which consists of about 5000 people of all ages, is claiming 85 000 hectares of land siezed by the State in the 1920s after diamonds were discovered there, and up to R2,5-billion in compensation, including R1,5-billion for the diamonds which state-owned company Alexkor has extracted since it began operations.

Strauss said though the idea of immediate gratification had never been raised in meetings, it must have occurred to people who were living in poverty.

"But we took a decision that this is not an individual claim. We will use that for the benefit of the people as a whole.

"I don't want my grandkids to say, what did my grandfather do wrong, why did he do so? So the decision that we've taken, its for the future of the Richtersveld."

Strauss said unemployment in the area was "quite high". The only major employer of Richtersveld folk was Transhex, which was mining diamonds on part of the community's land.

Alexkor, named as first respondent in the claim, employed only a fraction of the number of local people that Transhex did.

A dozen people worked in the 162 000 hectare Richtersveld National Park, which South African National Parks was leasing from the community for R100 000 a year, and managed jointly with it.

Many people were stock farmers, herding goats, sheep and a few cattle, some on a subsistence basis, and others marketing to outside buyers.

"So land is very, very important for the Richtersveld community," Strauss said.

Funding was being sought and used for income generating projects such as crafts and tourism outside the national park.

"The community is not sitting and waiting for this compensation claim to be finalised. We're in the meantime busy with other developments.

"We've recently established our own communal conservancy. We identified a piece of land with great tourist potential, and we are busy developing it... This is the beautifullest part of the Richtersveld."

The community had also made plans that would take effect once the funds expected from the compensation claim became available.

Shanduka executive chairperson Cyril Ramaphosa testified earlier this week in the hearing that his company had already committed itself to backing the community in exploiting the diamond resources currently under Alexkor's control.

Strauss said other plans included growing lucerne on the banks of the Orange River which borders the north of the territory.

Business plans for this had been drawn up alreaady.

The community also planned mariculture, cultivating oysters and perlemoen on the edge of the Atlantic Ocean.

"We know the diamond mine is not going to last forever," Strauss said. "Diamonds are not forever. Together with diamond mining we will be starting other economic generators like agriculture, mariculture, tourism, so the day the diamons are finished, there's something else for the people to do.

"We know that when the diamonds are finished there will be big holes, big sand heaps and empty stomachs. But that day we will make sure there is something else for the people to do."

Strauss said he and the community were happy that, after years of legal battles, victory in the land claim was in sight.

He was phlegmatic about the possiblity that whatever ruling the Land Claims Court made might still be taken to the Supreme Court of Appeal.

"If there's some appeal, it's fine," he said. "We've waited for 80 years to get our land back, so another six months, one year, it's fine. We are confident that the wrongs of the past will be corrected.

"We are looking forward... to develop a sustainable Richtersveld to the benefit of the Richtersveld people, the Namaqualand region, the Northern Cape Province and the rest of South Africa." - Sapa

Article by: By Ben Maclennan