The Constitutional Court gave the department of mineral resources (DMR) a stinging rebuke for its flawed handling of a disputed right claimed by Aquila Steel, and ordered that the company be allowed to mine, in a judgment with broad consequences. The court found on Friday in Aquila’s favour in a matter that pitted the Australian company against the department and the interests of the governments of SA, Zimbabwe and Zambia in a fight for a large, valuable manganese deposit in the Northern Cape that started more than a decade ago. In a judgment heavy with criticism of the department’s handling of the dispute that has gone through the high court and Supreme Court of Appeal, justice Edwin Cameron ordered mining rights to be granted to Aquila, which spent R157m to find a resource of more than 140-million tons of manganese worth billions of rand.

Within that resource, Aquila had outlined a reserve of 20-million tons it wanted to mine, he said. “But it cannot. Not so long as it is st...

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