Cape Town – As the Western Cape High Court was poised to hear the defamation cases launched by a subsidiary of Mineral Resources Commodities Ltd (MRC) against activists and environmental lawyers today, civil society has hit back with the launch of its Anti-SLAPP Campaign. 

SLAPP suits, or “strategic litigation against public participation”, are a type of litigation which activists say has or can be assumed to have a chilling effect on the rights and ability of people to participate in public debate over matters of public interest and concern.

Yesterday, civil society organisations launched a new joint advocacy campaign in Cape Town known as Asina Loyiko: United Against Corporate Bullying.

The campaign is aimed at raising awareness about SLAPP suits, and discouraging the use of this tool to silence and intimidate activists.

The environmentalists are opposing Australian mining company MRC’s attempt to mine mineral sands at Xolobeni on the Wild Coast.

The company is now suing the activists, including two former Centre for Environmental Rights (CER) attorneys, a journalist and a newspaper, for defamation in the amount of R9.25 million.

The suit concerns several statements made on January 25, 2017 at UCT during a summer-school lecture series titled: “Mining in the Wild and the West Coast: Development at What Cost?”

At the heart of the impugned statements is the allegation that the company has operated its Tormin Mine on the West Coast in breach of mining, environmental and land-use planning laws.

The CER said SLAPPs, which often take the form of defamation suits, had become a trend around the world, including in South Africa, and particularly in relation to environmental defenders.

“MRC is known for its controversial plans to mine titanium at Xolobeni on the Wild Coast, despite long-standing resistance by local people represented by the Amadiba Crisis Committee. 

"The conflict there and the shocking 2016 assassination of Bazooka Rhadebe - for which no suspect has been arrested - have been the subject of intense media coverage and debate, both here and internationally.

“Meaning ‘we do not fear’, Asina Loyiko is committed to resisting the threat that SLAPP suits and other forms of corporate bullying pose to civil society’s constitutional rights to freedom of speech, freedom of the media, academic freedom, and democracy more broadly,” the CER said.

Other supporters of the Asina Loyiko campaign include Right2Know, Open Secrets, Global Environmental Trust, Oxfam South Africa and groundWork. Organisations who wish to register their support can email [email protected]

Cape Times