Cape Town – Australian mining company, Mineral Resources Commodities (MRC), and its local subsidiary, Mineral Sands Resources (MSR), have denied trying to silence six environmental activists.
During a landmark hearing of the special pleas and exceptions in the Strategic Litigation Against Public Participation suit brought against the six, MSR said that the pleas did not give rise to a defence in South African law.
In response, the lawyers for the defendants argued that the exceptions should be dismissed, “either on the basis of existing common law or the common law as developed”.
Advocate Jan de Waal for MRC said: “Defendants have alleged that MRC’s motive was to silence critics and have asked MRC counsel to clarify whether they think that such a purpose is permissible.
“We don’t accept that this is an impermissible purpose.”
De Waal referred to case law that shows that defamation proceedings can be used to deter conduct and defamatory statements, and said MRC was suing for an apology.
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On Wednesday, advocate Anton Katz, SC, representing UCT, started the day’s proceedings by referring to an academic textbook co-authored by De Waal which argues that any academic enterprise is protected as academic speech.
This was in response to claims made by lawyers for MRC on Tuesday that UCT’s Summer School, where some of the activists made comments about the mining company, was “essentially a talk-shop and that non-scholarly lecturers should not be afforded academic freedom”.
Saying that judgment was reserved, Deputy Judge President Patricia Goliath thanked the lawyers and said: “I believe the papers are very relevant and will be of assistance in coming to a decision here.”