CER calls on Minister Mantashe to address mining company’s attempts to silence activists

Some of the defendants in the defamation suits by Australian mining company MRC meeting in Cape Town in 2018Some of the defendants in the defamation suits by Australian mining company MRC meeting in Cape Town in 2018

07 February 2018 - Ahead of Mineral Resources Minister Mantashe’s planned 8 February 2019 visit to Australian mining company Mineral Commodities Limited’s Tormin mineral sands mine on the West Coast, the Centre for Environmental Rights (CER) has asked the Minister to take note of MRC’s coordinated campaign of litigation against activists, lawyers and the media to silence criticism of the company and its operations, in violation of Constitutional rights of freedom of speech, freedom of media, academic freedom and environmental rights.

Mineral Commodities Limited (MRC) is the mining company that has applied to open a new mineral sands mine at Xolobeni on the Wild Coast. In 2016, anti-mining activist Sikosiphi “Bazooka” Rhadebe was assassinated at XolobeniNo-one has yet been arrested for his murder.

In its letter to Minister Mantashe, CER has also drawn the Minister’s attention to MRC subsidiary Mineral Sands Resources’ track record of violation of environmental laws at Tormin.

MRC and its subsidiaries have sued community activists, environmental attorneys, a social worker, a journalist and a local West Coast newspaper for defamation claims amounting to more than R9 million. Two of the defendants were attorneys employed by the CER who were sued pursuant to presentations they made at the University of Cape Town’s Summer School in 2017. All the lawuits are vigorously defended, and the Centre for Applied Legal Studies and the University of Cape Town have joined the lawsuit against the CER lawyers and a community activist as friends of the court.

The defamation suits, which are commonly known as “SLAPP suits”, or “strategic litigation against public participation”, are a type of litigation that is designed to obstruct freedom of speech and limit civil society’s ability to participate in public debate on matters of public interest and concern.

Around the world, SLAPP suits are used by companies, particularly in the mining and energy sectors, to intimidate environmental defenders, in an effort to suppress debate about the negative impacts of their operations on local communities and in relation to environmental degradation.

In the letter to Minister Mantashe, CER Executive Director Melissa Fourie writes that: “Attempts to silence criticism and debate on matters of public interest are the most egregious forms of attack on Constitutional rights and undermine not only the rights of those who are sued but undermines Constitutional freedoms which are central to democracy and civil society’s ability to advance transparency and accountability.”

“These issues should be of as much concern to government as it is to civil society, because corporations, particularly foreign corporations seeking to exploit mineral wealth in South Africa, should be fully accountable under South African laws instead of disregarding environmental laws and undermining constitutional rights and values,” says CER’s Corporate Accountability Programme Head Leanne Govindsamy.

CER has therefore requested Minister Mantashe to take into account the conduct of MRC’s attempts to limit the rights of media, civil society and environmental activists when making decisions about any proposed expansion at Tormin, as well as any new mining at Xolobeni.

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For queries, please contact Leanne Govindsamy on lgovindsamy@cer.org.za or 076 715 8270