About SLAPP Suits
SLAPP suits – Strategic Litigation Against Public Participation – are litigation (or threats of litigation) traditionally in the form of defamation suits but can include other forms of legal harassment. SLAPPs have a potentially chilling effect on the rights and ability of people to participate in public debate and political protest. SLAPP suits are increasingly used by corporations in South Africa and in other parts of the world, to silence criticism and suppress public activism. SLAPPs undermine Constitutional rights of freedom of speech, freedom of the media, and academic freedom.
In South Africa, the concept of SLAPP is being raised in our courts, both to classify legal proceedings which are vexatious and intimidatory in nature, as well as to formulate legal defences. However, SLAPPs can be much wider than defamation proceedings against activists and can include other forms of legal harassment, such as interdicts, applications for costs against activists and lawyers in their personal capacity, unwarranted criminal charges, malicious prosecution, abuse of court process and delictual liability cases, to name a few.
SLAPPs are therefore wider than the use of defamation proceedings to silence activists and can present itself in different forms and forums. In order to both document and address SLAPPs in South Africa, it is therefore important for activists, community members and more broadly, civil society, to recognise and report instances of SLAPP!
This will enable robust and meaningful data collection and analysis so that we can understand the impacts of SLAPP on civil society in South Africa and the region, and ensure better coordination, response and support for activists.
Those who work in the public interest, advancing and protecting their environments and homes from environmental harm and destruction and those who are working tirelessly to address human rights violations, should never have to be legally harassed for doing such important work.
The lack of equality of arms between big corporations and those working on the protection of constitutional rights and values, means that legal attacks on activists are inevitably skewed in favour of big corporations. It means that while corporations can continue mining or engaging in other polluting activities, an activist is prevented from challenging and questioning the impacts of a corporation’s mining or other activities.
Corporations could easily respond, in a meaningful, transparent and open manner to any criticism levelled at them. They always have the option to reply to allegations which are made about the impacts of their activities, present specialist and other information to verify their responses, and so address any legitimate concerns about impacts of criticism on their reputation, if any. It is always open to corporate actors, to respond directly to criticism and complaints instead of resorting to legal action!
Corporations should be answering and engaging with communities and activists who are concerned about their environment and basic human rights. Instead of being secretive, deliberately evasive and non cooperative, they should recognise that their activities have impacts which are felt long after they have completed a project and take responsibility for their actions.