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3 Feb 2022

John Yeld, GroundUp (South Africa)

South African Constitutional Court to hear SLAPP case brought by Australian mining company

"Australian mining company’s “SLAPP case” against its critics heads to Concourt", 1 Feb 2022

A long-running [South African Rand] 14.25-million defamation action brought by Australian mining interests against six South African environmentalists and social activists, will go to the Constitutional Court on 17 February. .

The Constitutional Court will deliberate on a judgment and two orders handed down by Western Cape Deputy Judge President Patricia Goliath almost exactly one year ago, relating to legal defences against defamation claims not previously recognised in South African law or the common law of defamation.

SLAPP cases, an acronym for Strategic Litigation Against Public Participation, are “meritless or exaggerated” lawsuits, usually brought by big corporations and multinationals to bully, intimidate and silence through lengthy and very expensive lawsuits, public interest organisations and individuals such as civil society advocates, human rights defenders, journalists and academics.

The defamation case has been brought by Australian mining company Mineral Commodities Ltd (MRC), its South African subsidiary Mineral Sands Resources, then MRC executive chairman Mark Caruso* and MRC’s black empowerment partner, Zamile Qunya, (the plaintiffs) against … environmental lawyers, …[a] social worker…and community activists…

The case that started … in June 2020 was not about the merits of the alleged defamation …[but] to rule on objections brought by the plaintiffs … to two novel defences to the defamation brought by the defendants through so-called special pleas.

Currently, this common law is based on an existing [South African] Supreme Court of Appeal (SCA) majority decision that for-profit corporations are entitled to general damages for defamation.

The defendants argue that for-profit corporations cannot sue for defamation…