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Centre for Environmental Rights – Advancing Environmental Rights in South Africa

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Corporate Accountability

Exposing corporate failures to comply with environmental laws, and raising investor awareness.

Asina Loyiko Campaign

The Asina Loyiko Campaign was formed in response to the growing trend of “SLAPP suits” – Strategic Litigation Against Public Participation – which are being used by corporations in South Africa and in other parts of the world, to silence criticism and suppress public activism. These SLAPPs undermine Constitutional rights of freedom of speech, freedom of the media, and academic freedom.

About the Campaign

Asina Loyiko, which translates from IsiXhosa to mean “we have no fear”, is an advocacy campaign which aims to raise awareness about SLAPP suits; discourage the use of this tool to silence and intimidate activists; and unite civil society against corporate bullying. In particular, the campaign was formed in response to the SLAPP suits brought by Australian Mining company, Mineral Resources Commodities (MRC) and its South African subsidiary, Mineral Sands Resources (Pty) Ltd (MSR), against environmental defenders, lawyers and activists. The mining company brought SLAPP suits against individuals who had criticised it in relation to its current Tormin operations on the West Coast and its proposed Xolobeni operations in the Wild Coast region of the Eastern Cape.

About MRC, MSR and Mark Caruso

MSR is the South African subsidiary of Mineral Resource Commodities (MRC), which has its principal and registered office in Australia with company shares listed on the Australian Securities Exchange (ASX). MSR has operated its Tormin mineral sands mine on the West Coast of South Africa since 2013 and since commencement of its operations, there have been multiple complaints about and resistance to their operations, including findings of non-compliance with mining and environmental laws by regulators.

MSR has also sparked controversy in relation to its application to mine at Xolobeni in the Eastern Cape, and there has been longstanding resistance to mining by communities in the area. The conflict there, and the shocking assassination of Bazooka Rhadebe for which no suspect has yet been arrested, has been the subject of intense media coverage and debate, both here and internationally. Recently, a High Court judgment clarified the rights of communal landowners to object to mining and exemplifies the struggle and controversy surrounding this mining company.

MRC’s Tormin mining operations have been widely criticised by local communities in the area, environmental defenders as well as the broader South African public for regularly flouting environmental laws and regulations, its damaging impact on the environment (such as the cliff collapses in 2015 & 2018, impact on fisheries and operating in a critical biodiversity area), reports of poor working conditions and low worker wages, and for MRC’s use of SLAPP suits to intimidate and silence environmental defenders.

MRC also owns many other mining projects around the world, some of which are also contentious:

  • Allegations in relation to Gold Ridge Mine in the Solomon Islands which it previously owned through its subsidiary St Barbara. In response to the mine being declared a “disaster area” by the Solomon Islands Government St Barbara sold Gold Ridge Mine in 2015 to a local community led company for a very low price of A$100 [5]. This meant that MRC were able to avoid any legal, rehabilitation and environmental liability for the mine. Just one year later the area experienced a major environmental disaster. Torrential rainfall triggered spillover of thousands of cubic meters of untreated, potentially dangerous water from the mine’s tailing dam. Solomon Islands’ Ministry of Health ordered citizens not to drink water from, fish and wash in nearby rivers for fear of possible chemical contamination of the local water systems. Although subsequent testing of the water has declared it safe, the potential environmental impact of the mine’s tailing dam and St Barbara/MRC’s legacy remain a huge concern for local communities and the Solomon Islands public.
  • Allegations relating to Simberi Gold Project in Papua New Guinea which is also owned by MRC through its subsidiary St Barbara. Simberi currently uses deep see tailings to dispose of its mine waste. Scientific reports and studies increasingly show the threat which irresponsible and unsustainable mining practices such as deep see tailing poses to marine life and ecology.

About MRC CEO, Mark Caruso

Mark Caruso, is the CEO of mining company MRC. According to MRC’s website he has a “proven track history of project discovery, delivering and financing projects from exploration through construction into operation in developing and emerging countries on time and on budget”. He is also a director of Connexion Media and is described on their website as “a successful executive and entrepreneur with a strong, transferrable business acumen.” Caruso is also regarded as a controversial and ‘colourful’ character in the South African public eye.

Mark Caruso is widely known for spearheading MRC’s controversial attempt to establish a mine at Xolebeni. Following the assassination of prominent activist Sikhosiphi ‘Bazooka’ Rhadebe in March 2016 and allegations of MRC’s involvement, Mark Caruso told Australian Broadcasting Corporation that the company would not engage in any violence, and would “cooperate fully with any investigations into this incident”. But in 2015 a report of Caruso’s threatening emails emerged, in which he is reported to quote biblical scriptures when describing what he would do to anyone who opposed him. Caruso reportedly wrote in his email, “From time to time I have sought the Bible for understanding and perhaps I can direct you to Ezekiel 25:17… And I will strike down upon thee with great vengeance and furious anger, those who attempt to poison and destroy my brothers. And you will know my name is the Lord when I lay my vengeance upon thee.”

Mark Caruso has also been involved in more than his fair share of controversy internationally. In 2010 Papua New Guinean media reported that Mark Caruso had flown in 14 Fijians, which they described as ‘mercenaries’ to protect MSR’s mining operations at Simberi Gold Project and in 2014 The Weekend Australian carried a report stating that Caruso had been at the centre of an alleged corruption scandal in the Solomon Islands. According to the report, Mark Caruso had admitted to paying for a Solomon Islands politician’s children to attend a top boarding school in Australia.

Currently 6 defendants; Christine Reddell, Tracey Davies, Davine Cloete, Mzamo Dlamini, John Clarke and Cormac Cullinan are facing what is being widely regarded by civil society as SLAPP suit charges brought by MRC, under Mark Caruso’s leadership.

Mark Caruso and MRC have purported to not engage in any violence, illegal activities and that “the company acknowledges the right to freedom of speech”. But it is made clear both by Mark Caruso’s threatening emails and actions that he will employ a wide range of dirty tactics to ensure he protects his ‘brothers’ and ‘rains down vengeance’ on his enemies.

Documents relating to MSR’s Mining Operations

NEMA Section 24G Application to Rectify Unlawful Activities:

Section 102 Expansion Application


Environmental Authorsations

CER’s Appeal of Environmental Authorisation – Extension Application for Tormin Mine

MSR’s Response to CER’s Appeal

MSR’s Response to Sowman’s Appeal

Appeal Decision (26  March 2020)

Media and Other Resources