The Supreme Court of Appeal dealt beleaguered Northern Cape ANC chairperson and MEC for economic affairs John Block another blow this week when it ruled against his salt mining company, which has for years been mining with a forged permit.
Judge Azhar Cachalia also lambasted the South African Police Service (SAPS) for not investigating the forged mining licence and the department of mineral resources for not holding anyone accountable for ineptitude and corruption.
The SAPS has now confirmed that an investigation into the forged mining licence was nearly complete.
SA Salt, one of numerous companies that Block is a director of, had petitioned the court for leave to appeal against a high court order to stop all its mining activities at Vrysoutpan near Upington.
The Supreme Court of Appeal dismissed the appeal and upheld the high court’s cost order – to be shared by the mineral resources department and SA Salt.
The saga began in July 2005 when rival company Saamwerk applied for a mining licence, which the regional manager of the mineral resources department accepted since “no other person was on record as holding a right or permit to mine salt on the property”, according to the judgment.
But when Saamwerk submitted its labour and social plan in December 2006, SA Salt suddenly claimed the right to mine the property.
SA Salt had been mining and had a permit that expired in April 2005, just before Saamwerk applied for its own.
From the appeal court judgment, it appeared the mineral resources department initially insisted SA Salt’s permit had expired and the public works department demanded it vacate the property in favour of Saamwerk.
A few months later the mineral resources department changed its position. It now said it “had no record of having issued” the permit SA Salt claimed to have, contradicting its earlier position that the permit had expired.
The department’s regional manager even raised questions over the validity of the permit, which appeared to be forged.
In November 2006 Block and then ANC mayor and regional chairperson for Upington, Gift van Staden, became SA Salt directors.
Cachalia described how in 2007 the minerals department had arranged a high-level meeting – including both the regional manager and an official from its head office in Pretoria.
Block, attending for SA Salt, produced the original permit with which they claimed to be mining.
Now the mineral resources department declared the permit valid.
Saamwerk turned to the Northern Cape High Court.
In its affidavit the minerals department said it had approved Saamwerk’s application “through bona fide error” because SA Salt’s “permit” had not been captured on the computer system.
At the 2009 high court hearing Saamwerk’s handwriting expert proved SA Salt’s permit false and judge Hennie Lacock declared it invalid and Saamwerk to be the holder of the right.
Cachalia said: “At the very least one would have expected Block, who on SA Salt’s behalf had produced the permit ... to have explained where he had got it.”
SA Salt’s legal team would not comment this week, saying it was studying the judgment and obtaining legal advice.
Saamwerk lodged a claim of forgery with the Saps two years ago.
Cachalia saved the most scathing criticism for the mineral resources department, saying it was “disturbing .?.?. that there is more than a hint of ineptitude – if not venality – among one or more of the officials of the (department) who dealt with this matter. Yet no-one has been held accountable.”
Department spokesperson Bheki Khumalo said: “Minister (Susan) Shabangu has always called on those who have or claim to have information regarding alleged cases of corruption or wrongdoing on the part of the officials of the department to submit it either to herself or to the department or even to the law enforcement agencies so that the law can take its course.”