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SarWatch Writer
PRESS RELEASE: SARW and Bench Marks Foundation Stand with Lawyers and Activists in SLAPP Suit before the Constitutional Court of South Africa

SARW and the Bench Marks Foundation will be closely monitoring the Constitutional Court hearing on a landmark case on Strategic Litigation against Public Participation suits. The suit brought by the ASX-listed Australian mining company Mining Commodities Limited (MRC) and its South African subsidiary Mining Sands Resources (MSR) relates to public criticism of MRC’s conduct regarding a mine proposal in Xolobeni, South Africa’s Wild Coast by activists and public interest lawyers. This case has significant implications for human rights activists’ work and protection, freedom of speech, the fundamental principle of public interest and the rights and responsibilities of corporations in South Africa and beyond. The situation is particularly poignant for SARW, which is currently facing a similar suit from a mining company.

In May 2021, SARW lodged a notice of intention to defend a SLAPP suit action brought against the organisation by a Canadian mining company, First Quantum Minerals (FQM) in the Gauteng Local Division High Court, Johannesburg. SARW is an independent, non-profit organisation that monitors corporate and government’s conduct in the extraction of natural resources in Southern Africa. As part of its work, SARW assesses the extent to which these activities uplift the economic conditions of the SADC region’s communities. Often this work puts SARW at odds with some mining companies who do not take well any constructive criticism made against their operational practices, particularly matters relating to the impact of their activities on the environment and on adjacent communities.

Over the past few years, in collaboration with Zambian civil society organisations and mining-affected communities, SARW has been monitoring the Corporate Social Responsibility (CSR) of FQM in Solwezi District in the Northwestern Province of Zambia. In December 2020, SARW published a report titled “First Quantum Minerals Corporate Governance and Social Responsibility: KANSANSHI MINE,” following interactions with all key stakeholders in Zambia, including FQM. The report found that FQM’s CSR programmes are not transforming the lives of mining communities and that the company lacks commitment towards sustainable inclusive development and social justice. It revealed disparities between what FQM claims to have done and the reality on the ground. As a result, FQM decided to file a SLAPP suit against SARW with the sole intention to silence us.

SLAPP suits are part of the tactics that big multinationals like FQM and MRC use, as a strategy and attempt to escape accountability by closing all avenues for other stakeholders to express their views on their activities. SLAPPs are structured to weaken financially and silence those who dare to confront corporate unethical behaviour. This Constitutional Court case is important in that it will determine:

  1. whether SLAPP suits constitute an abuse of court process, and violate the Constitutional right to freedom of speech; and
  2. whether a for-profit company is entitled to claim damages for defamation without offering evidence that meets certain minimum requirements, including proving actual loss suffered.

SARW and the Bench Marks Foundation stand in solidarity with the Southern African Human Rights Defenders Network and the Centre for Applied Legal Studies, who have filed applications for leave to intervene in the matter as friends of the court, in opposing corporate bullying by big multinational companies. Similarly, we stand with the six activists and public interest lawyers facing claims of over R14.5 million by MRC and MSR.

Tomorrow (Wednesday, 16 February) the two organisations will be part of SLAPP suits teach-in that has been scheduled to take place at the Constitutional Hill, Women’s Jail Lekgotla Meeting Room at 10 AM -12 NOON to coincide with the upcoming Constitutional Court Hearing on the 17 February.

Contacts for enquiries:

Masutane Modjadji

SARW Communications Officer

Cellphone: +27833078355

Email: masutanem@sarwatch.org

 

Hassen Lorgat

Bench Marks Foundation

Cellphone: +27823626180

Email: hassenlorgat@yahoo.com

 

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