| EASTERN CAPE

New charges in Aussie mining “SLAPP” suit

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Amadiba activist sued for R7.5 million

Photo of people marching in street
About 200 people from the Xolobeni area picket outside the Pretoria High Court last year. Activist John Clarke is being sued for defamation by the mining company involved. Archive photo: Zoe Postman
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Controversial Australian venture capitalist Mark Caruso and one of his mining companies want to add four more claims totalling R2 million to their defamation case against South African social worker, writer and human rights activist John GI Clarke.

Clarke has been involved with Amadiba community members who are strongly resisting mining of the titanium-rich coastal dunes of Xolobeni on the Wild Coast that the Australians have been trying to exploit for more than a decade.

In December last year, Caruso and Mineral Commodities Ltd (MRC) filed a defamation case against the outspoken Clarke, involving 19 claims with a combined amount of R5.5 million.

Caruso and MRC also operate a mineral sands mine, Tormin, on the West Coast near Lutzville, through their South African subsidiary Mineral Sands Resources (MSR).

Caruso, MRC and MSR, and one of their black empowerment partners have also launched defamation cases involving damages of R4.25 million against South African environmental lawyers Corman Cullinan, Christine Redell and Tracey Davies, Xolobeni community activist Mzamo Dlamini and Lutzville community activist Davine Cloete.

These cases, all being defended, are based on allegedly defamatory comments and statements about Caruso and the mining companies made variously by the defendants in media articles, media interviews, lectures, social media posts, books, a letter to the South African mining minister and/or emails to mining analysts and investors between 2014 and 2018.

Locally, these cases are widely regarded as SLAPP suits – Strategic Litigations Against Public Participation – instituted as part of the MRC’s deliberate strategy to bully, stifle and harass critics of its operations in South Africa.

However, MRC has denied this, with company secretary Peter Torre earlier this year describing such an interpretation as “meritless”.

“In all instances where defamation matters have been commenced, they have been warranted and appropriate. The comments that are the subject matter of these defamation actions stray outside of the bounds of legitimate debate and constitute infringements of MSR and its CEO, Mr Caruso’s rights to dignity, which is enshrined in the South African constitution and its law of defamation,” he said.

On 29 May, some of these defamation lawsuits will be ventilated in public for the first time during a “discovery” application by Redell, Davies and Cloete – a legal term for compelling MSR to hand over documents they believe are relevant and essential to their defence – that has been set down for hearing in the Cape Town High Court.

On 16 May lawyers for Caruso and MRC gave formal notice of their intention to amend the case against Clarke by adding four more claims, which will bring the total amount sought against him to R7.5 million.

In a Facebook post at the weekend, Clarke said his attorney phoned him last week “to tell me that I have another mountain to climb”.

“The Aussie Miners have added another four defamation claims against me totalling R2 million. This brings the total quantum to 23 claims and R7.5 million.

“The only new allegation is that I apparently harmed the reputation of Mr Caruso and MRC by drawing comparisons between my experience on a humanitarian mission to Somalia (when I was working for the World Health Organisation in 2005) and the situation I found when I returned to the Wild Coast. It was in a radio interview with ABC’s Phillip Adams broadcast in Australia three years ago. It was one month after the assassination of [Xolobeni anti-mining activist] Bazooka Radebe.

“He [Caruso] clearly doesn’t like the comparison. Well, neither do I. Which is precisely why I warned him to get out before things became violent.”

Three of the four new claims against Clarke relate to this radio interview, while the fourth relates to an undated YouTube post by Clarke in which he describes himself and his activities.

At the end of this month, the issue of the “SLAPP” lawsuits will be raised at MRC’s annual meeting in Perth by Louis de Villiers, a South African lawyer and environmentalist who emigrated to Australia some years ago.

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