A momentous legal victory for environmental activism and free speech
February 10, 2021
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Today, civil society organisations officially launched a new joint advocacy campaign in Cape Town known as Asina Loyiko: United Against Corporate Bullying.
The campaign comes in response to the growing number of corporations, both in South Africa and globally, who use a tactic termed “SLAPP suits” – Strategic Litigation Against Public Participation – to silence criticism and suppress public activism. These SLAPPs undermine Constitutional rights of freedom of speech, freedom of the media, and academic freedom.
SLAPPs, which often take the form of defamation suits, have become a trend around the world, including in South Africa, and particularly in relation to environmental defenders.
Australian mining company Mineral Resources Commodities Ltd (MRC), listed on the Australian Securities Exchange, has sued environmental activists, lawyers (including two former CER attorneys), a journalist and a newspaper for defamation in the amount of R9,25 million. These defamation suits are based on comments made by individuals critical of MRC and its South African subsidiaries – including statements made during a lecture at the University of Cape Town Summer School in 2017.
MRC is known for its controversial plans to mine titanium at Xolobeni on the Wild Coast, despite longstanding resistance by local people represented by the Amadiba Crisis Committee. The conflict there, and the shocking 2016 assassination of Bazooka Rhadebe – for which no suspect has yet been arrested, have been the subject of intense media coverage and debate, both here and internationally.
Called Asina Loyiko: United Against Corporate Bullying, the newly-launched campaign is aimed at raising awareness about SLAPP suits, and discouraging the use of this tool to silence and intimidate activists. Meaning “we do not fear”, Asina Loyiko is committed to resisting the threat that SLAPP suits and other forms of corporate bullying pose to civil society’s Constitutional rights to freedom of speech, freedom of the media, academic freedom, and democracy more broadly.
The launch consisted of a media briefing and panel discussion. Panelists included current MRC SLAPP suit defendants Cormac Cullinan, John Clark, Mzamo Dlamini, Tracey Davies and Davine Cloete, as well as activists facing other forms of corporate intimidation.
The launch of the Asina Loyiko campaign comes one day before the first court hearing in the case involving three of the six activists who are being sued for defamation by MRC – a preliminary legal skirmish over the disclosure of documents by MRC.
Other supporters of the Asina Loyiko campaign include Right2Know, Open Secrets, Global Environmental Trust, Oxfam South Africa, Sustaining the Wild Coast, Amadiba Crisis Committee, Southern African Faith Communities’ Environment Institute (SAFCEI), the Public Service Accountability Monitor, Natural Justice , CorruptionWatch and groundWork. Organisations who wish to register their support can email email@example.com.
For media queries, contact CER Corporate Accountability & Transparency Programme Head Leanne Govindsamy on 076 715 8270 or firstname.lastname@example.org.