Activists accuse aspiring Xolobeni miner of malicious litigation

The titatium-rich sand dunes of Xolobeni on the Eastern Cape Wild Coast. (Photo: Circle of Blue)
The titatium-rich sand dunes of Xolobeni on the Eastern Cape Wild Coast. (Photo: Circle of Blue)

Activists accused Mineral Commodities and its South African subsidiary, Mineral Sands Resources, of using the court process to discourage activists from opposing the company’s plans to explore and mine for titanium in Xolobeni of the Eastern Cape.

The Australian company Mineral Commodities sued some of the environmental activists for defamation over misgivings they expressed about the process behind the approval of their exploration licence in Xolobeni. Mineral Mineral Sands Resources sued activist Davine Cloete as well as lawyers Tracy Davies and Christine Reddell for defamation over remarks they made about Mineral Sands Resource’s (MSR) Tormin operations near Vredendal.

The mining company is facing unrelenting opposition to its plans in Xolobeni and an already existing operation in Vredendal.

MSR director Zamile Qunya is suing for remarks made in 2017 during an event organised by the University of Cape Town (UCT).

Webber Wentzel is assisting the activists on a pro bono basis. The matter will be heard in the Western Cape High Court later this week.

CER executive director Melissa Fourie told reporters on Tuesday that the defamation lawsuit from Mineral Commodities is a "slapp-suit", saying it was designed to intimidate and financially exhaust the non-governmental organisation until it was unable to continue fighting the company’s mining plans.

"Companies are increasingly using litigation to intimidate and censor activists and the media from telling the truth about their business practices. The point is to burden activists with the costs of a legal case and prompt them to abandon their campaigns. The suit does not need to win in court to succeed," said Fourie.

UCT professor of environmental humanities Lesley Green said because of uncontrolled extraction and pollution on the rise, the environmental struggle in South Africa was becoming "more deadly and brutal than anyone could have originally imagined". 

Executive director of Just Share, Tracey Davies, said the company continued to challenge activists for saying it violated environmental laws at its Tormin mine.

Fourie said the activists involved in the matter wrote to Minister of Mineral Resources Gwede Mantashe about their misgivings regarding the company and got no response.

Instead, she said, Mantashe did a site visit of the Tormin and granted MSR further prospecting rights.

While MRC’s spokesperson Phillip Retter could not be reached to comment on the remarks of the environmentalists, MSR’s court affidavit says: "It is submitted that if the plaintiff’s primary defence (no facts pleaded in the support of defence of justification for general defamatory allegations of unlawful and criminal behaviour) or the abuse of process argument succeed, then the entire discovery application should be dismissed".

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