A 14-year battle over what should have been a simple prospecting rights issue has gone all the way to the Constitutional Court, which last week rebuked the Department of Mineral Resources for its ‘comedy of official errors’.

A Times Select report says the Gouws family of Mpumalanga has been fighting the department and a mining company for the rights to mine a coal vein on the family’s farm in Middelburg. Despite highlighting the department’s incompetence, the court has referred the family’s prospecting application back to the department.

The report notes the case revolves around the implementation of the Mineral and Petroleum Resources Development Act, which came into effect in 2004. The panel of judges also remarked how this Act has repeatedly appeared before them to rectify ambiguous parts of the legislation.

The matter concerns farmer Nicolaas Petrus Gouws who applied in 2005 for his old prospecting rights order to be converted in terms of the new Act. But a few days after he applied, another company, Magnificent Mile Trading (MMT), applied for the same prospecting rights for the coal deposit on Gouws’ Middelburg farm.

The Constitutional Court Bench was clearly irritated that despite being brought on as respondents in the case, the department had barely contributed to efforts to resolve the matter.

‘The government respondents have conveniently opted to remain supine throughout, including before this court,’ the ruling read.

Because of this, the apex court ruled that the government bear the costs of all of the applications for the Gouws family.

The court also ruled that MMT’s prospecting licence from the department was invalid and that the department had 30 days to make a full and proper decision on Gouws’ 2005 application for prospecting rights.

Full Times Select report (subscription needed)

Magnificent Mile Trading 30 (Pty) Ltd v Charmaine Celliers NO and Others