A Pretoria High Court judge turned down an application by Anglo Platinum (Angloplat) and Potgietersus platinum mines to stop Nelspruit attorney Richard Spoor from making defamatory statements about them in the media.
Judge Eberhard Bertelsmann said the mining houses were not entitled to an interim interdict against Spoor, adding that the debate about mining activities and the rights of rural communities were already in the open.
"The issue of Black Economic Empowerment (BEE) and mining is very important to the people. Mining companies often find themselves at the crossroads of competing interests. Today BEE - or the lack thereof - is equally important to the public at large. The debate is already in the public domain," he said.
The mining companies this week launched an urgent application for an order restraining Spoor from making defamatory remarks about their conduct on the farms Maan-dagshoek, Hendriksplaats and Onverwacht in the Bushveld minerals complex.
Spoor had accused Angloplat of "corporate thuggery" and had said the companies were guilty of racist behaviour. He said in media interviews they crushed people and waged a war on communities and the traditional way of life.
Spoor represented several communities and individuals in their legal battles with the mining houses. The rural communities claimed they were being treated unlawfully and in a discriminatory manner by the mining houses.
Spoor said his utterings were true and constituted fair comment.
Bertelsmann said mining activities were by nature controversial. The debate over mining bosses getting rich at the expense of "poor labourers" was nothing new.
He said there were only vague allegations of irreparable harm to the mining houses. They had other remedies to deal with the allegations against them. He turned down the application for an interim gagging order, but indefinitely postponed an application to permanently silence Spoor on the subject.
- Hanti Otto writes that on Friday about 12 residents of Maandags-hoek left the court with joyful shouts, dancing and singing.
One shouted: "Amandla! Viva Comrade Spoor!" The others responded: "Viva!"
Emmanuel Makgoga, who spoke on behalf of the community, said they had won the battle thanks to Spoor.
"We feel very good. They say Richard said bad things. But they can also speak to the media and complain. No one is preventing them from stating their side.
"We have not benefited even after five years of mining. Angloplat made empty promises," he said.
Simon Tebele, head: corporate communication for Angloplat, said: "The court gave Mr Spoor seven days to answer and deliver proof of the allegations he had made. We are awaiting his response to see if he can substantiate his allegations."