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Commentary: Activists unite to fight corporate SLAPP suits

A “SLAPP suit” is a term coined in the United States to describe the use of litigation to intimidate or strike fear into the hearts of social and environmental activists – thereby stifling public debate and scrutiny of mining and resource projects by powerful corporate interests. The acronym is derived from the term Strategic Litigation Against Public Participation (SLAPP).

Social activist Sheila Berry felt like she had been given a sharp slap across the face when she received a lawyer’s letter recently.

The letter warned that she could be hauled in front of the High Court of South Africa for making “defamatory” statements about a coal mining company in KwaZulu-Natal.

Johannesburg social worker John Clarke also knows what it is like to be “SLAPPed”. A different group of lawyers sent a series of legal letters to him, demanding over R7 million in damages for his allegedly defamatory claims about the activities of an Australian company, which hopes to mine the ancestral land of the Amadiba community near Xolobeni on the Eastern Cape Wild Coast.

Amadiba Crisis Committee member Mzamo Dlamini is also being sued by the Australians (for R2 million), along with three Cape Town environmental lawyers Cormac Cullinan (R1 million), Tracey Davies and Christine Reddell (R250 000 each) and West Coast activist Davine Cloete (R750 000).

This is before the mounting legal costs of senior counsel and attorneys in a case that has not reached court for trial yet, more than two years after the actions were instituted in 2017 by Perth-based company Mineral Commodities Ltd (MRC) or its subsidiaries...