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11 Jun 2020

Rebecca Davis, Daily Maverick

So. Africa: Mineral Commodities Ltd files defamation suit against activists for comments allegedly made in the public interest

"Mining case poses big questions about the right of business to silence dissent" 9 June 2020

A case to be heard this week by the Western Cape High Court poses significant questions about freedom of expression and the legal rights of corporations. It forms part of an Australian mining company’s attempt to sue six South African activists and lawyers for defamation – which the defendants see as a blatant attempt to muzzle criticism...

The case centres on Australian mining company Mineral Commodities Ltd (MRC), which has been pursuing two local mining ventures: the Tormin mineral sands operation on the West Coast, and the attempt to mine titanium-related minerals in Xolobeni on the Wild Coast. Both projects have been mired in controversy for more than half a decade, with the opposition to mining from the Xolobeni community believed to have spilled over into violence with the mysterious murder of local activist Sikhosiphi “Bazooka” Rhadebe...

There has been much unflattering media coverage of MRC’s activities in Xolobeni in particular – including in Daily Maverick – but the Australian mining company has chosen to target six South African individuals it specifically accuses of defaming it through public criticism.

 The statements in question were made at a University of Cape Town (UCT) Summer School lecture in 2017 and in other public forums, including media interviews...

In total, MRC is claiming damages of R14.25-million from the six – but in its latest court papers, the company says it will also accept prominent public apologies.

The six defendants – represented by advocate Geoff Budlender – say their statements about MRC were true, made in the public interest, were in line with the constitutionally enshrined right to freedom of expression, and amounted to fair comment. They have also filed two special pleas, which are the subject of this week’s court hearing...

The first special plea is that MRC is engaging in what is known in some countries as a SLAPP (strategic litigation against public participation) suit: in other words, that MRC is abusing court processes in an attempt to silence and intimidate dissenters. This, it is argued, amounts to a violation of freedom of expression.



Part of the following timelines

South Africa: Activists & lawyers argue in court that lawsuits brought by MRC & MSR against them are Strategic Lawsuits against Public Participation

Strategic lawsuits against public participation (SLAPPs) are on the rise, while resistance around the world mounts

S. Africa: Attacks against anti-mining activists and human rights defenders escalate