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Why would a specialist extraction company abandon a cache of material it had mined, worth about US$6m? Why would it shrug and walk away? The answer lies in an international political dispute playing out in SA courts.

On May 1 a cargo of phosphate from Western Sahara was on its way to New Zealand when its carrier, the NM Cherry Blossom, stopped for fuel in Port Elizabeth. The phosphate was mined by a subsidiary of Moroccan company OCP, the world’s largest producer of fertiliser extracts and exporter of phosphate rock and phosphoric acid. It was taken from a mine in Western Sahara, sometimes called Africa’s last colony because its sovereignty is still under dispute. Morocco regards the former Spanish colony as part of its territory, while the Polisario Front, a liberation organisation formed to ensure postcolonial freedom for an independent Western Sahara, claims Morocco has no right to occupy or mine there.A full bench of the high court sitting in Port Elizabeth ruled that the court had jurisdiction to consider the question of ownership. Summons was duly served on OCP at the end of June and it seemed the matter would plod through the court system for some years.But now OCP has dropped a bombshell...

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