Defamation: Slapp suit appeal before ConCourt

Judgment has been reserved in the Constitutional Court in the long-running R14.25m defamation saga pitting Australian mining interests against six SA environmentalists and social activists. The plaintiffs – Mineral Commodities (MRC), its SA subsidiary Mineral Sands Resources, previous MRC executive chair Mark Caruso and MRC’s black empowerment partner Zamile Qunya – are suing environmental lawyers Christine Reddell, Tracey Davies and Cormac Cullinan, social worker John GI Clarke, and community activists Mzamo Dlamini of the Wild Coast and Davine Cloete from Lutzville on the West Coast. The Sunday Times reports that the miners allege that the six made defamatory statements and comments about them more than five years ago. The defendants are outspoken critics of MRC’s proposed titanium mining operations in Xolobeni on the Wild Coast. The proposal has been under attack from locals and environmentalists for more than a decade. On Thursday the court heard an appeal by MRC against the finding by Western Cape Deputy Judge President Patricia Goliath last year that its defamation case constituted a so-called Slapp (Strategic Litigation Against Public Participation). She stated in her judgment that MRC's action ‘matches the DNA of a Slapp suit’. It emerged during last week’s hearing that if confirmed by the Constitutional Court, the Goliath finding could pave the way for the defendants to apply to have the case separated into two parts. In an initial ‘mini’ trial, the defendants would then be able to argue their Slapp defence plea to the effect that the defamation action by MRC constituted an abuse of the court process because it had been brought with an improper purpose.

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