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CER to resist attempts by Australian mining company to intimidate attorneys and activists

May 5, 2017 at 10:27 am

A subsidiary of Australian mining company Mineral Commodities Limited (MRC), known for its controversial attempts to mine mineral sands at Xolobeni on the Wild Coast, has sued two Centre for Environmental Rights (CER) attorneys for defamation, claiming R500 000 in damages.

The summons alleges that CER attorneys Tracey Davies and Christine Reddell, along with a local community activist from the West Coast, Davine Cloete, made defamatory statements about MRC’s 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. Davies, Reddell and Cloete gave presentations about MSR’s environmentally destructive Tormin mineral sands mine situated on the West Coast, approximately 350 kilometers north of Cape Town.

MSR has claimed R250 000 in damages from each of our 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.

As a civil society organisation that works to help communities and civil society organisations in South Africa realise our Constitutional right to a healthy environment, by advocating and litigating for environmental justice, 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 Chair 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.

ENDS

Any statement in this media release to be attributed to Melissa Fourie, Executive Director of the Centre for Environmental Rights.

For media queries, please contact Annette Gibbs on agibbs@cer.org.za or 082 467 1295.

Support the Centre for Environmental Rights and our work to help communities and civil society organisations in South Africa realise our Constitutional right to a healthy environment by advocating and litigating for environmental justice.

Section 24 of the Constitution of the Republic of South Africa, 1996

Everyone has the right to an environment that is not harmful to their health or well-being; and to have the environment protected, for the benefit of present and future generations, through reasonable legislative and other measures that prevent pollution and ecological degradation; promote conservation; and secure ecologically sustainable development and use of natural resources while promoting justifiable economic and social development.

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National Environmental Crimes & Incidents Hotline (24 hours): 0800 205 005

In addition, there are a number of national and provincial hotlines that may be useful.

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