Australian company, Mineral Commodities has sued two Centre for Environmental Rights (CER) attorneys for defamation, claiming R500 000 in damages.The summons alleges that Centre for Environmental Rights attorneys Tracey Davies and Christine Reddell, along with a local community activist from the West Coast, Davine Cloete, made defamatory statements about Mineral Commodities’ subsidiary company, Mineral Sands Resources (MSR), and its director, Zamile Qunya, during presentations at the University of Cape Town’s Summer School in January this year.
MSR is a subsidiary of Australian mining company Mineral Commodities (MRC) which is known for its controversial attempts to mine mineral sands at Xolobeni on the Wild Coast in South Africa.
Davies, Reddell and Cloete gave presentations about MSR’s environmentally destructive Tormin mineral sands mine situated on the West Coast, approximately 350 km north of Cape Town.
MSR has claimed R250 000 in damages from each of the Centre for Environmental Rights attorneys, and a further R750 000 from Cloete.
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. SLAPP suits have been made illegal in many jurisdictions around the world on the grounds that they impede freedom of speech.
The Centre for Environmental Rights is a civil society organisation that works to help communities and civil society organisations in South Africa realise their Constitutional right to a healthy environment, by advocating and litigating for environmental justice. With this in mind such threats cannot be tolerated.
The claims will be strenuously defended.
This is not the first time that MRC has sued activists who have criticised the company. Last year, MRC and its CEO Mark Caruso sued Cape Town attorney Cormac Cullinan, Amadiba Crisis Committee activist Mzamo Dlamini, and John Clarke, a social worker, all for defamation in relation to the company’s involvement at Xolobeni. These claims are also being defended.
The controversial proposal by MRC to mine the sand dunes of Xolobeni on the Wild Coast has been persistently opposed by many local residents, led by the Amadiba Crisis Committee. In March 2016, crisis committee chairperson Sikhosiphi “Bazooka” Rhadebe was assassinated at this home in Pondoland. Despite a public outcry, no-one has been arrested for his murder.
At Tormin, local communities and environmental activists have raised numerous concerns about the legality of MSR’s mineral sands mining operation. In September 2016, environmental authorities obtained and executed a search warrant at Tormin. In response, MSR sued the Magistrate who issued the warrant and the environmental authorities involved in the search and seizure operation.
While the Western Cape High Court in its judgement in March 2017 set aside the search warrant on the basis that the environmental authorities had overstepped their jurisdiction, the court confirmed that MSR had expanded its operations without the required environmental authorisation.
The court also questioned the lawfulness of other actions by MSR, including whether the mine was responsible for the devastating cliff collapse in the area, but refrained from making findings on these points given the narrow focus of the court case.
Feature image credit: Mineral Commodities Limited
(A community member at Xolobeni, located on the Wild Coast of South Africa)