Friday, October 17, 2003

South African court rules: indigenous peoples

On 14 October 2003, in one of the most historic court judgments ever made in favour of indigenous peoples, the Constitutional Court of South Africa ruled that an indigenous people had both communal land ownership and mineral rights over their territory. Laws which tried to dispossess them were 'racial discrimination'. The case concerned the 3,000 Richtersveld people who live in Northern Cape Province. They are from the Nama subgroup of Khoikhoi peoples, and have always lived in the area called Richtersveld until they were evicted in the 1950s to make way for a diamond mine, now owned by the South African government. Five years ago, the people took both the government and the mining company to court, claiming ownership rights over both 85,000 hectares of land and the minerals it contains. They lost the case but then appealed, and the appeal court ruled in their favour. But then the mining company itself appealed against the decision. The 14 October judgment, from the Constitutional Court, is final.