Photo: African News Agency (ANA)
Photo: African News Agency (ANA)

Environmental activists prepare for showdown with Aussie mining giant

By Siphelele Dludla Time of article published May 21, 2019

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JOHANNESBURG - The Centre for Environmental Rights (CER) said on Tuesday that it was getting ready to challenge the defamation case brought against its former lawyers by Mineral Commodities Limited (MRC), the Australian mining company at the centre of the Xolobeni dispute.

In May 2017, MRC's South African subsidiary Mineral Sands Resources (MSR) sued former CER employees and attorneys Tracey Davies and Christine Reddell, together with Western Cape community activist Davine Cloete, for defamation of the company and its director, Zamile Qunya.

MRC claimed R250,000 in damages from each of the attorneys, and a further R750,000 from Cloete.

The company soon followed this with second defamation suit against environmental activists Cormac Cullinan, John Clarke, Mzamo Dlamini and Riaan Oberholzer.

The defamatory comments are alleged to have occurred during speeches at the University of Cape Town's Summer School in January 2017 where Davies, Reddell, and Cloete were presenting information about MSR's Tormin mineral sands mine operation which they said was "environmentally destructive".

MSR mines mineral sands at Tormin mine on the West Coast near Lutzville, where some of the richest concentrated grades of naturally occurring zircon, ilmenite, rutile, magnetite and garnet are found. 

Last year, the miner was fined R1.25-million for unlawful activities at its Tormin heavy minerals mine for clearing of stockpiling material and constructing a dam in a cleared area without the required environmental permission and in contravention of the conditions of the company’s mining licence.

The company was also accused of raft of other environmental and legal transgressions and violations, including causing the collapse of a major sea cliff, dumping mine tailings into the sea, and others. 

MRC's 56 percent-owned South African subsidiary Transworld Energy and Minerals also wants to mine heavy minerals in Xolobeni on the Wild Coast in the Eastern Cape despite longstanding resistance by mining-affected communities in the area preventing any new or existing mining or prospecting.

Leanne Govindsamy, programme head for corporate accountability and transparency at CER, said MRC was using "strategic litigation against public participation" (SLAPP) suits in a bid  to intimidate environmentalists and lawyers who have criticised the company, suing them for defamation in the amount of R9.25 million. 

SLAPP is a lawsuit that is intended to censor, intimidate, and silence critics by burdening them with the cost of a legal defence until they abandon their criticism or opposition. 

Govindsamy said they have seen a growing trend of corporate companies using litigation to silence dissent, and they were looking to make an interlocutory application

She said civil rights organisations were going to court next week Wednesday to demand documents filed by MRC in their application so they can prepare their arguments for trial. The organisations include GroundWork, Oxfam, Earthjustice, Human Rights Watch, and others. 

"Civil society is concerned about these SLAPP suits because they involve the vexatious use of litigation, which threatens and undermines the hard fought Constitutional right to freedom of expression, a right which is integral in ensuring transparency and accountability, particularly in relation to corporate actors," Govindsamy said.

"Therefore civil society organisations, which include legal NGOs and community and activist organisations have decided to take a stand against corporate bullying and are launching a strategic campaign designed to resist all forms of corporate intimidation."

Govindsamy said they will be launching a campaign, "Asina Loyika: Standing Together against Corporate Bullying", which comprises of civil society representatives who have expert knowledge in SLAPP suits and will have a roundtable discussions a day before the matter is heard at court.

African News Agency (ANA)

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