Environmental rights group claims it's being censored

Published May 8, 2017


The Centre for Environmental Rights says an Australian company involved in mining in environmentally-sensitive areas, which it opposes, is suing two of their attorneys for defamation.

It is the second time they are being sued. Spokesperson Annette Gibbs said that last year holding company MRC and its chief executive, Mark Caruso, sued Cape Town attorney Cormac Cullinan, Amadiba Crisis Committee activist Mzamo Dlamini and John Clarke, a social worker, for defamation in relation to the company's involvement at Xolobeni.

The centre says a subsidiary, Mineral Sands Resources (MSR), is now claiming R500 000 in damages.

Gibbs said the summons served on Tracey Davies and Christine Reddell, along with a local community activist from the West Coast, Davine Cloete, claimed they had made defamatory statements about MSR and its director Zamile Qunya during presentations at UCT’s Summer School in January.

Gibbs said Davies, Reddell and Cloete gave presentations about MSR’s “environmentally destructive” Tormin mineral sands mine on the West Coast.

The CER said MSR has claimed R250 000 in damages “from each of our attorneys”, and a further R750 000 from Cloete. The environmental group said the claims will be “strenuously defended”.

“Strategic lawsuits against public participation, popularly known as 'Slapp' suits, are intended to censor, intimidate and silence critics by burdening them with the cost of a legal defence until they abandon their criticism or opposition.

“They are also aimed at sending a message to all activists that resisting that company, and others like it, poses personal risk,” said Gibbs.

But yesterday Caruso alleged the CER and certain individuals 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 local communities. “The company acknowledges the right to 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.” MRC has also been at the centre of controversy for its intention to mine nine million tons of ilmenite, used in paints, at an open cast operation on pristine sand dunes in Xolobeni on the Wild Coast close to the KZN-Eastern Cape border.

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