Australian company sues SA environmental lawyers for defamation

Cape Town - Australian-owned mining company Mineral Commodities (MRC) is suing a West Coast community activist and two Centre for Environmental Rights (CER) attorneys for defamation. The company is claiming over R1m in damages.

Advocacy group Right2Know has vowed to protest at the Department of Mineral Resources and at the Australian embassy against what it calls “dodgy business dealings” by MRC.

MRC has been marred by controversy for its attempts to mine mineral sand at Xolobeni on the Wild Coast and its ongoing court battle over its Tormin mine on the West Coast near Lutzville.

In a statement on Friday, the CER said that attorneys Tracey Davies and Christine Reddell as well as community activist Davine Cloete are accused of making defamatory statements about MRC’s subsidiary company Mineral Sands Resources (MSR) and its director Zamile Qunya during presentations at the University of Cape Town in January this year.

Davies, Reddell and Cloete were doing a presentation about MSR’s “destructive” sand mining at its Tormin sand mineral mine on the West Coast. The CER has said that the summons was a way to intimidate activists and discourage others from speaking out against the mining giant.

“MSR has claimed R250 000 in damages from each attorney, and a further R750 000 from Cloete. Lawsuits against public participation are aimed at sending a message to all activists that resisting the company, and others like it, poses personal risks,” the CER said.

The CER said that it was not the first time MRC sued activists. “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, for defamation in relation to the company’s involvement at Xolobeni. These claims are being defended,” the CER said.

Right2Know’s Allison Tilley said they would decide on a way forward after a public meeting expected to take place in Lutzville on Wednesday.

“It is clear that Qunya and MRC are now employing scare tactics against the lawyers who are providing legal assistance to the anti-mining activists. We stand in solidarity with CER and Cloete as they continue to challenge corporate corruption, fight for environmental justice and speak truth to power,” the organisation said.

CER will be opposing the summons. MRC spokesperson Anne Dunn said the company will not be responding to questions on the matter.

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