Swissbourgh Diamond Mining has filed a R29.9bn claim against President Cyril Ramaphosa and his government as a near three-decade-long dispute over expropriated diamond mining rights in Lesotho reaches SA courts again.

Josias van Zyl, MD of Swissbourgh, is arguing that SA is liable to pay him damages for, among other reasons, its ‘unconstitutional’ and ‘unlawful’ support in disbanding the Southern African Development Community (SADC) Tribunal at a summit in 2014, notes a News24 report.

Van Zyl is the second plaintiff, with the first being the Burmilla Trust, the successor to the disputed mining rights held by various companies in the Swissbourgh group.

In December 2018, the Constitutional Court ruled that former President Jacob Zuma's participation in the decision-making process and ‘his own decision to suspend the operations of the SADC Tribunal was unconstitutional, unlawful and irrational’.

The country's apex court also directed that Zuma's signature of the protocol mandating the disbandment was similarly unconstitutional, unlawful and irrational and directed him to withdraw his signature.

Van Zyl, whose legal battles over the mining rights in north-eastern Lesotho have been raging since 1991, has seized on this ruling as a new club to be brandished in his quest for compensation over his lost mining rights that has spanned nearly three decades and multiple courts, tribunals and arbitration bodies in Lesotho, SA, Singapore and Mauritius.

In documents filed in the Gauteng High Court (Pretoria), Van Zyl argues SA was complicit in denying him an avenue for recourse as he had already filed papers with the tribunal which sought to compel Lesotho to compensate him for the removal of the mining rights in 1989.

At the heart of the dispute over the mining rights is the Lesotho Highlands Water Project, a joint venture between the governments of SA and Lesotho. The News24 report notes Swissbourgh mines obtained the mining leases in 1988 from the then military council, which had been in power in land-locked Lesotho since 1986.

The Lesotho Government, however, back-tracked and eventually handed the leases to the state-owned Lesotho Highlands Development Agency, despite Swissbourgh and Van Zyl leading a court process in Lesotho that interdicted any interference with mining operations.

Some of the mining rights fell on land that was eventually flooded when the Katse Dam was completed in 1995 – placing ‘considerable quantities of diamonds’ beyond the miner's reach, Swissbourgh argued in previous court papers.

Now, Van Zyl has set out in his latest court challenge how the Lesotho Government destroyed evidence of the value of the mines through flooding the land. Presidency spokesperson Khusela Diko said: ‘The Presidency is opposing the application. Particulars have not been filed yet so we wouldn't wish to add anything further at this point.’

Full News24 report