Licences, Contract, Administrative

The applicants, 206 diamond diggers in the Kao Area in the Maluti Mountains of Lesotho, were licensed to dig diamonds in the area. Such licences had to be renewed every six months in order for them to lawfully conduct their activities. According to the applicants, the Minister of Natural Resources sent, on 23 August 2000, the Acting Commissioner of Mines to inform the applicants that starting on the 23 September 2000 their licences would not be renewed and activities in the area would have to cease. The Minister argued that notification to the applicants of the intention to suspend the licenses had already been made at a traditional meeting (“Pitso”) on 10 March 2000, six months prior to such suspension coming into effect.

The suspension was due to harmful water pollution of the Kao River and Malibamto rivers in the form of think mud slimes caused by diamond digging activities, and that Such pollution affected the water quality in the Katse Dam, which, under the Lesotho Highlands Water Project created under a Treaty between the Kingdom of Lesotho and the Republic of South Africa, was meant to deliver specific quantities of clean water to the Republic of South Africa. Because of lack of funding to address this issue through the building of slimes dams, the Minister of Natural Resources decided to suspend polluting activities including diamond digging in the Kao Area, therefore not renewing the licenses of the applicants.

Applicants claimed the delay of notification was not sufficient and not enough time was given to make representations and persuade the authorities that such suspensions would be inappropriate and would undermine their livelihoods.

Justice S.N. Peete dismissed the case on the grounds that the Ministry of Natural Resources and the other respondents were not in breach of any terms of contract by exercising their administrative discretion in refusing to renewal, that legitimate expectation could not in this case create a right that licences should always be renewed, but at best create an expectation that notification would occur within a reasonable time. Sufficient time was indeed given to the applicants to voice their concerns as the first notice was given at a Potsi six months prior to the expiration date of the licences on 23 September 2000.