Environmental activists have launched a campaign in Cape Town against what they call corporate bullying. The campaign will include lobbying for legislation against the practice dubbed SLAPP Suits. The term describes lawsuits brought by big corporates aimed at silencing critics by burdening them with legal costs.
Tracey Davies, former attorney for the environmental NGO, Centre for Environmental Rights, is one of many activists who have been sued in their personal capacities by big companies.
She faces a defamation lawsuit brought by a mining company which runs an operation on the Cape West Coast.
“I was giving a lecture at the UCT summer school to a small group of mostly retired people about the impact of mining development on our precious resources and in particular, about MSR’s Tormin Mine on the west coast, where our beaches are being dug up for precious minerals which are being sent overseas. So, there were lots of environmental issues with that mine … issues with compliance with environmental laws and that’s what we were talking about at the lecture and subsequent to that, we were sued for defamation by that company.”
Davies and two others are due in the High Court in Cape Town on Thursday. They’re seeking an order to force the company to provide documentation they need for trial.
Fellow activist, Mzamo Dlamini from Xolobeni in Pondoland also faces a hefty defamation suit. He is a member of the Amadiba Crisis Committee, a community organisation vehemently opposed to mining in the area.
The community has been fighting off attempts by an Australian mining company to mine titanium along a 22km stretch of the Wild Coast.
Dlamini, who is fiercely opposed to the proposed mining project, says activists are often threatened and intimidated.
“The community does not agree on this. It’s really unfair and they are using all these tactics, taking people to court; intimidating them; trying to get other people to fight. They are very divisive, but they haven’t succeeded. The community has been strong very united against their operations which is why it hasn’t taken off.”
Activists say they will take a collective approach to lobby government to protect civil society’s right to freedom of speech.
Leanne Govindsamy, from the Centre for Environmental Rights, says not enough attention is given to how communities are suffering from the impact of this intimidation.
“We have not seen enough attention being paid to how communities are really suffering harm and what the impact of this intimidation is. And to also unite us together in developing innovative strategies to resist this intimidation.”