If Spoor is even half right, Angloplat may be digging itself into deep holePublished by MAC on 2006-09-18
If Spoor is even half right, Angloplat may be digging itself into deep hole
Rob Rose's Monday Comment: Business Day, South Africa
18th September 2006
IF ATTORNEY Richard Spoor can prove even half of the shenanigans of which he accuses Anglo Platinum in new court papers, then the world's largest platinum producer may have hanged itself in the court of public opinion by its efforts to gag him.
It now appears that the case in which Angloplat is looking to restrain Spoor from speaking about how the company allegedly ill-treats the communities that live on the land it mines has been delayed, and is no longer on the urgent roll.
Originally set down for tomorrow on the urgent roll, the case was withdrawn and placed on the court's "ordinary roll" - which means it could take place any time in the distant future.
When Angloplat spokesman Simon Tebele was asked last week, he said the postponement was not at Angloplat's request, but rather due to the "nonavailability of the judge".
But Spoor says this is untrue: "Angloplat withdrew the matter from the urgent roll themselves. Originally, they said they would only withdraw the case from the urgent roll if we undertook not to discuss this matter in public. We refused, but Angloplat nonetheless still removed the case from the urgent roll." Either way, this delay might at least give Anglo American chairman Sir Mark Moody-Stuart time to intervene.
Angloplat, which mines more than a third of the world's platinum, is 74% owned by Anglo American, and Moody-Stuart's reputation for ensuring sound ethics in companies under his watch could be irrevocably tarnished if Spoor proves his allegations.
For a start, Moody-Stuart should scrutinise how Angloplat's management has handled this case. Most remarkably, after Angloplat lost its bid in the Pretoria High Court last month to get an urgent interim interdict to silence Spoor, it issued a triumphant statement saying its fight against Spoor had received a "shot in the arm" - not mentioning once that it actually lost the application. Which raised the question: if Angloplat is misleading investors about that, about what else is it less than candid?
Since then, Spoor has filed court papers that should alarm Moody-Stuart. In his papers, Spoor defends his right to say Angloplat's conduct is racist, and that of a "corporate bully".
What is particularly enlightening is how Angloplat has fought Spoor. The tactics detailed in Spoor's papers make Angloplat seem as if it is run by the delinquent spawn of a community of tow-truck drivers.
Perhaps the dirtiest incident alleged was one where Spoor represented four community members in an effort to prevent Angloplat from moving graves on their land in order to mine. The land belonged to the community but Angloplat also had mining rights. Days before the case was due in court, Angloplat project manager McKenzie Magagane visited the community member who had appointed Spoor and signed the first affidavit, Johannes Masubelele.
Masubelele was allegedly told that he would be hugely "rewarded" if he signed another affidavit firing Spoor and withdrawing the legal action, and got the others to follow suit.
According to Spoor, Magagane then paid R1500 into Masubelele's bank account. That court case was duly postponed, and Angloplat apparently sent a letter to Masubelele saying it had won and that he would be "well rewarded".
Spoor got wind of this skulduggery only because Angloplat then failed to pay Masubelele this "reward", so Masubelele told Spoor what had taken place.
The papers detail many such instances.
Now while it is true that Spoor speaks in the tone of a crusader, these are events that, if proven, will be damaging to Angloplat's reputation and financial position.
Angloplat's misguided handling of this case, from its decision to gag rather than engage Spoor, to its misleading statements, should give Moody-Stuart cause to intervene. But only if he values his and Anglo American's reputation, that is.