Late Monday afternoon, 15 April, Youens Attorneys, who act for the Global Environmental Trust (GET), received a letter from Tendele mine’s attorneys stating that a recent post on our websites and social media pages was defamatory in stating that the South African Human Rights Commission (SAHRC) report on mining affected communities includes “numerous human rights abuses perpetrated by Tendele”. The letter from Malan Scholes Attorneys demanded we respond by 10am the next day, Tuesday, with an apology and that we remove from our website, Facebook and social media pages all references to Tendele in connection with being accused of committing human rights abuses in the report by the SAHRC.
In response, Johan Lorenzen of Richard Spoor Attorneys, who was briefed to act on behalf of GET in this matter, dismissed the accusations of defamation levelled at us by Tendele’s lawyers and threatened to seek punitive costs if Tendele were to sue GET.
Tony Carnie’s article in the Daily Maverick, published this morning, explains that mining companies are increasingly using what has become known as SLAPP suits – strategic litigation against public participation – to try to intimidate and silence opponents. SLAPPS are intended to unsettle and constrain the opposition by taking up time and resources in responding to irksome claims that often have little or no substance.
In response to the rising number of SLAPPS, several legal NGOs and civil society organisations have formed a coalition to challenge and counter SLAPPs.
One must surely ask the question why Tendele is featured in research conducted on human rights infringements in the mining industry by the SAHRC? The report was released in August 2018, just before our Pietermaritzburg High Court application and formed part of the evidence presented to the court.
In an interesting twist of fate, on Tuesday, 16 April, the date GET was required to apologise and remove all references to Tendele and human rights abuses in the SAHRC report, a US organisation, Human Rights Watch, released its publication about the environment of fear in South Africa’s mining-affected communities, entitled: “We know our lives are in danger”. The photo on the front is of a group of women activists, who are members of MCEJO, outside the Pietermaritzburg High Court on the day of the Tendele hearing in August. The photo on the back cover is of Tendele’s opencast operations dominating the rural landscape with a Zulu homestead in the foreground. Once again, the people in the community surrounding the Tendele mine, including many MCEJO members, feature strongly in this report.
With two independent publications on human rights violations in the mining industry citing Tendele in their reports, it will be difficult for Tendele to prove their accusations of defamation. If they do try, GET is ready.