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14 Jun 2019

Sheree Bega, IOL (South Africa)

So. Africa: Environmental activists battle defamation lawsuits by companies

"Environmentalists winning battle in lawsuits", 8 Jun 2019

Nine years later, Duigan salutes six fellow environmental activists who have been sued by Australian mining firm Mineral Commodities Ltd (MRC) and its local subsidiary, Mineral Sands Resources, and Zamile Qunya, its BEE partner, to the tune of R9.25m...

The defamation suits, which have been described as SLAPP suits, are based on comments allegedly critical of MRC and its local subsidiaries - including statements made during a lecture at the UCT Summer School in 2017...

These centred on the firm’s Tormin mining operation at Lutzville on the West Coast, and its hugely controversial proposed titanium-mining operation at Xolobeni in Pondoland on the Wild Coast, which the Amadiba Crisis Committee (ACC) has fought for over a decade. In 2016, local anti-mining activist Sikhosiphi “Bazooka” Rhadebe was assassinated, but no arrests have been made...

SLAPPs, which experts say often take the form of defamation suits, have become a global trend, particularly in relation to environmental defenders.

Dr Esther Gumboh, a researcher at the Centre for Applied Legal Studies (CALS), which together with the universities of Cape Town and Wits, have intervened in the MRC matter as amici curiae, says they are on the rise in SA too...

The MRC defamation case, she believes, is a “classic SLAPP case”, which is “directed at muzzling criticism” against it. “It presents another opportunity for our courts to expose this ugly tactic and once again defend activists in this country.”

While MRC did not respond to the Saturday Star, its executive chairman Mark Caruso, previously told the newspaper that the “CER and certain individuals have made defamatory and unsubstantiated remarks aimed directly at diminishing the company’s core values of ensuring responsible environmental impact and high social and economic value for the local communities.

“The company acknowledges the right to the freedom of speech and that it must subject itself to public scrutiny. The individuals and the organisations who have made these remarks have overstepped the boundaries of responsibility, truth and fairness. The company enjoys the same right to defend itself and owes a duty to its stakeholders and employees not to permit these remarks to simply go unanswered.”

Part of the following timelines

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

Report shows human rights defenders in extractive sectors are particularly vulnerable & makes recommendations to states & cos.