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28 Nov 2017

Mineral Sands Resources lawsuits (re Tormin mine, So. Africa)

In May 2017 Mineral Sands Resources (MSR), a subsidiary of Australian mining company Mineral Commodities Limited (MRC), filed a lawsuit against two attorneys from the Centre for Environmental Rights (CER) and a community activist. MSR are suing the attorneys and activist for alleged defamation of the subsidiary occurring during a presentation at the University of Cape Town in January regarding MSR’s “environmentally destructive” Tormin mineral sands mine. MSR have requested R500 000 of damages from the attorneys and R750 000 from the activist.

According to MSR, the defendants have “overstepped the boundaries of responsibility, truth and fairness”. MSR claims they have a right to defend the company, their shareholders, and workers from defamatory statements.

In response, CER deny accusations and refer to their right to freedom of expression, their right to academic expression, and Section 24 of the South African Constitution that safeguards the protection of the environment. CER have raised several concerns over the actions of MSR in relation to their mining operation. They therefore claim that the proceeding is a Strategic Lawsuit Against Public Participation (SLAPP) aimed at intimidating, censoring and disabling CER from speaking out against their operations by burdening them with legal costs.

CER argue recent intervention from the University of Cape Town and the Centre for Applied Legal Studies demonstrates the level of threat to constitutional environmental rights caused by SLAPPs.

The Western Cape High Court heard the case in June 2020. The High Court accepted the defendants’ argument that the claim against them is a SLAPP case.

In February 2022, it was announced that the Constitutional Court will deliberate on the validity of the SLAPP defence under South African law, and on the requirements for defaming a juristic person, such as a corporation.

In early 2023, the defendants amended their pleas after receiving guidance on SLAPPs from the Constitutional Court. The Court specified that a SLAPP defence must analyse the merits of the defamation claim at hand, and that companies can sue for general damages in defamation cases unless the alleged defamation involves public discussion on issues of legitimate public interest.

So. Africa: MRC subsidiary sues two NGO attorneys and a community activist for alleged defamation: NGO says will resist attempts by the company to intimidate them, Business and Human Rights Resource Centre, 6 May 2017
Environmental rights group claims it's being censored, IOL, 8 May 2017
Australian company sues SA environmental lawyers for defamation, News 24, 8 May 2017  

Centre for Environmental Rights: 
CER to resist attempts by Australian mining company to intimidate attorneys and activists, 5 May 2017
CER attorneys raise Constitutional defence in SLAPP suit, and experts join as friends of the court, 20 Nov 2017  

Centre for Applied Legal Studies:
Mining company threatens environmental activists, 2 Nov 2017

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