Caruso’s Tangled Web

Chapter 14 from The Promise of Justice.

John GI Clarke
19 min readFeb 15, 2021


MRC share price and volume movement from July 2004 to June 2014. Source: Australian Securities Exchange

‘Oh, what a tangled web we weave, when first we practice to deceive.’

Sir Walter Scott.

This article is a chapter reproduced from my 2015 book The Promise of Justice. It is reproduced to provide some context to the ruling in the Western Cape High Court on 9 February 2021 that permitted me and five other respondents to raise a “SLAPP” defence against defamation suits brought by Perth Mining entrepreneur Mark Caruso, his business partner Zamile Qunya and their associated mining companies.

It narrates my efforts over the years to build a relationship with him, and be fair to him.

No defamation claims were made against me for anything written in this particular chapter. I draw attention to this narrative so that all stakeholders can hopefully gain insight into the underlying issues, and understand why it is so important that the courts of law must be open spaces for conflict to be resolved, and not abused by those with more power and money. Doing so only prolongs conflict and leads to violence.

The week after the Marikana Massacre I was driving with Nonhle Mbuthuma and a local tourism consultant to meet Belgian tourists who were enjoying the extraordinary beauty of the Mtentu River estuary. ‘Did you see the terrible conditions that the Marikana miners were living in?’ Nonhle asked, having seen recent TV footage of appalling living conditions of the Marikana mineworkers. ‘So that is what the Government is offering us if we allow the mining! To destroy our comfortable traditional homes, and put us into shack settlements,’ she said sarcastically.

As we rounded a bend the road narrowed, winding its way through a woodlot. Our conversation was interrupted when I noticed a vehicle coming from the opposite direction, driven by her mortal enemy, ‘Bashin’ Zamokwake Qunya. He had, together with his brother Zamile been the first two local residents to be co-opted by MRC. From having pioneered the eco-tourism initiative, in the pay of MRC and their collaborators they soon turned to sabotage their own good work, when offered more lucrative, and more immediate gratifications. Recognising me and Nonhle, Bashin Qunya stopped his pick-up truck in the middle of the narrow road, blocking our path. He got out of the vehicle with one of his passengers and proceeded to intimidate us. ‘Clarke, where do you think you are going?’

‘To see tourists from Belgium who are on holiday at Mntentu,’ I replied.

When he saw Nonhle in the back seat his expression of hatred intensified.

One would not wish to meet up with Bashin Qunya on a lonely stretch of road on the Wild Coast at the best of times. The encounter happened to occur one week after the hard-hitting SABC TV current affairs program ‘Cutting Edge’ had featured both Bashin Qunya, and Nonhle Mbuthuma on sharply opposite sides of the Xolobeni mining debate. Bashin’s hostility toward us had been aggravated by Nonhle having gone public to accuse him of having used his company vehicle (which MRC had provided to him as a perk during his employment with them) as a private taxi, and pocketing the money. The producer had afforded him the right to reply, but his justification had been wholly unconvincing, and his local reputation badly tarnished. Although the Cutting Edge film had been filmed before the Marikana massacre had shot South Africa into world headlines, it had been coincidentally scheduled for broadcast on national television in the widely watched African language channel of SABC 1, in the same week that the dreadful event occurred. My brief contribution to the Cutting Edge feature had been to warn that Government was allowing the same forces of colonial exploitation that had for centuries bedevilled the country to undermine social cohesion and create community conflict. The government’s handling of the Marikana mineworkers’ strike had unwittingly served to underscore my words. This encounter on the narrow road was the first opportunity since the broadcast of the program that Bashin had to confront us.

‘You are not welcome in this community,’ he said wagging his finger. ‘I have just come from a meeting. We have decided your bell is to be rung’.

I reached for the only defensive weapon I carry, my camera. ‘Would you mind if I filmed you saying that, Bashin?’

It had the anticipated effect. He and his companion showed distinct reluctance to pursue whatever intent they had in mind.

Fortunately another vehicle loaded with churchgoers dressed in their Sunday best, came into view heading toward us, driven by a well-respected local school principal. Cowed by the arrival of further witnesses and the hooting of the horn, Qunya’s companion managed to herd him back to his car. He sped off, shooting a final filthy glare at us.

Weighing up our options, we decided to lay charges against him at the local police station; the same police station from which the three policemen had been sent to sjambok the Xolobeni JSS scholars four years earlier. The SAPS were short on reputation locally as well as nationally, given the recent events at Marikana. Thus it was with some trepidation that we entered the charge office, determined to ensure at least that our experience was formally on record. Not to do so would have left us with regrets. Reassuringly, both the desk officer and the investigating officer did their jobs proficiently and courteously, and deserve due commendation. Not so, the National Prosecuting Authority who let them down. Without reasons and despite the hard evidence of multiple witnesses, after two court appearances instructions came from higher up for the matter to be dropped from the roll.

Bashin Qunya remains an employee of the local Mbizana municipality. His job title is laughably, ‘tourism promotion officer’, a job he was given within weeks of his retrenchment by MRC in September 2008, after the mining rights had been suspended. He is still listed on record as a director of Xolco, the BEE partner with MRC, which Mark Caruso proclaims to be the means whereby the local residents will be uplifted.

Contrast my exchange with Bashin Qunya described above with the first verbal exchange I had with his Mark Caruso, five years earlier in November 2007.

‘Go and do something practical to help these people, John’, Caruso had angrily lambasted me. ‘In Australia we have a saying; “piss, or get off the pot”. And you can quote that!’

The sound bite came half way through a 20-minute conversation prompted by his receipt of a report circulated to all stakeholders by the South African Human Rights Commission, in response to the complaint I had lodged on behalf of the Amadiba Crisis Committee. The report wasn’t as strong as we believed it should have been, but it should one day be preserved in a museum to illustrate how ‘stabbing the paper’ does work. It worked to steer things away from violent confrontation between pro and anti mining factions. Next, backed up by a subsequent report from environmental officials from the Department of Environmental Affairs and Tourism, it worked to show definitively why the Xolobeni mineral sands venture would amount to a gross violation of environmental rights as defined by Section 24 of the Bill of Rights, if it went ahead.

Mark Caruso heaped scorn on me for my esoteric indulgence in abstract notions of fundamental human rights when the far more relevant issue for the local residents was (in his firmly held conviction) the satisfaction of their fundamental human needs. He claimed that his primary interest to develop the Xolobeni mine was compassion for the starving children living in abject poverty in mud huts.

He conceded nevertheless that, although I was hopelessly uninformed and misguided, he could not stop me from becoming involved, but challenged me to ‘do something practical’. However, he was not prepared to let me get away with negative aspersions cast about on MRC’s venture in Sierra Leone. I had been quoted in the media stating that MRC also used ‘questionable methods’ in their Erebus Diamond Tailings venture in Sierra Leone. He was incensed that I dared to comment about his Sierra Leone venture without having ever been there. He threatened legal reprisals for the harm done to his good reputation in Sierra Leone and elsewhere in Africa. Nothing came of them after I presented him with evidence of correspondence with a source in Sierra Leone who had given me sufficient reason to back up my ‘questionable methods’ opinion.

With respect to my inconsiderate occupation of ablutions, I tried to explain to him that it was not his assessment of my work that mattered, but that of the Amadiba community and the social work profession. He was too angry to pause long enough for me to explain to him that Nkomba [Sinegugu Zukulu, who had contracted me to provide professional social work services in 2006 to expose alleged human rights violations] was sitting in the passenger seat alongside me listening to his every word on my car speakerphone, fuming quietly at his outrageous ignorance and insensitivity to the real needs of the Amadiba community. Before I could introduce Nkomba to educate Mark Caruso as to how his community actually felt, he abruptly terminated the call, leaving Nkomba and I staring at each other in shocked disbelief, searching for words to make some sense of it all. Ironically the unscheduled call had come through while I was driving with Nkomba after a meeting with staff from the United Nations Development Program office in Pretoria. We had been planning practical ways of boosting job creation prospects through eco-tourism.

‘I think that was an admission of defeat,’ I said, hoping it would console Nkomba’s anger, ‘he is looking for a face saving exit strategy’.

Nkomba is the embodiment of mercy and compassion, one of the most outstanding servant leaders I have ever had the privilege to work with. I have never seen him so outraged as by Mark Caruso’s presumptive messianic claim to be the salvation of the Amadiba community.

Soon thereafter, Mixael de Kock, owner of the communications consultancy, Maverick Communications, fired MRC as a client. Mixael de Kock had been contracted prior to the lodging of the mining rights application to ensure MRC got the best possible media coverage. After a torrid six months of controversy, Mixael had come to realise that his good professional reputation was at stake and his long term interests were incompatible with the ‘questionable methods’ that his client employed to advance their mining ambitions. At the time, his professional code of ethics, and the cost of defending anticipated legal proceedings that he feared Mark Caruso would institute if he spilled his beans, constrained him to only place on record that ‘I fired MRC, not the other way around’. It was an act of extraordinary civil courage.

The detailed story behind his decision to forgo a lucrative contract, (which meant the retrenchment of staff) can now be told because Mixael’s professional code of ethics is no longer a constraint and because Mark Caruso cannot tie him up in litigation. Mixael de Kock died of a stroke on 25 August 2013. May his soul rest in peace.

His story is really an emblematic recursion of Our Story, and will be disclosed in Book Four as a further warrant for the ultimate Promise of Justice.

Cuen Miles. Daily Dispatch (used with permission).

Before his angry phone call, Mark Caruso was but a caricature in my mind; a ‘Perth Entrepreneur’, which a financial journalist explained to me, was cautionary code among journalists to ‘be careful’. After his call, the stereotype softened into an archetype — a less prejudicial explanatory profile. Although Nkomba found it understandably difficult to find anything good to say about Mark Caruso, I recognised enough of myself in Mark Caruso from my youth as a guilt-ridden privileged white male, who had mercifully come around to eventually recognising my own messianic complex. My blind spots didn’t show up as dark patches either. Thank God black friends and colleagues had loved me enough to help me see how disempowering a guilt-driven response to human suffering can be.

‘Perth is the most remote continental city in the world,’ I pointed out to try and mollify Nkomba, ‘even Australians from other states regard them as “different”. Besides, maybe he has a point about being more practical.’

Nine months later, after the mining rights had been suspended I received another phone call from Mark Caruso. He was less aggressive, and the conversation more friendly, for in the intervening months a great deal had happened. The death of a leading member of the Crisis Committee, Scorpion Dimane, a further intervention by the Human Rights Commission to subpoena three cabinet ministers to hand over documents, and the dramatic beach walk/march that had finally turned the tide. Without Mixael de Kock, or any other self respecting PR company willing to work for him, MRC opted for a strict ‘no comment’ policy. Journalists had no way of getting MRC’s perspective other than from what Mark was obliged to disclose to investors in terms of the rules of the Australian Securities Exchange.

For four months, between May and August 2008 I permanently relocated from my home in Johannesburg, to immerse myself still more deeply into the community. As local residents came to trust me an ever more vivid picture emerged of ‘questionable methods’ such that there was no doubt in my mind that I would survive any legal reprisals were I to go public about them. I was worried about a more irreversible and final method. I moved around a lot, and never travelled in the community after dark.

The stony silence from MRC did not help. Without a spokesperson to give them MRC’s case, journalists were frustrated. Consequently, journalistic ethics left editors cautious about running a story that had only one side. Editors needed to ensure a fair, accurate and balanced coverage.

When Mark Caruso eventually broke the silence and called me again (eight months after our first conversation in November 2007) it was not an unexpected call. He said the call was a spontaneous gesture of friendship, made against the advice of his lawyers, to warn me that the Caruso family was deeply offended by remarks I had made in a television interview about his brother’s manipulative co-option and subversion methods. My remarks had indeed been provocative, but deliberately so, for by then I had worked out a strategy that was carefully contoured to the true nature of those whom I wanted to engage. It worked.

His brother Patrick, who was based in South Africa to oversee MRC’s interests, had refused my direct efforts to engage with him. To be fair to him I had wanted to confront him about his alleged conduct, both with respect to his attitude and behaviour toward the community, as well as toward Mixael de Kock, leading up to the parting of ways between them.

Although Mark Caruso may have felt that his call was the start of a friendship, it was not about friendship. It was about holding one’s friends close, and one’s enemies even closer. Alastair McIntosh and Walter Wink had helped me understand that ‘naming and unmasking the Powers’ is about identifying the psychological and economic forces at play, which keep the ‘domination system’ in place to oppress us and rob us all of our humanity. ‘Engaging the Powers’ via Mark Caruso had unmasked a great deal of both already. However, Mark was still unconscious of any explanatory psychological archetypes and unwilling to consider any other economic rationality besides the crude ‘casino capitalism’ profit maximisation logic of the venture capital market. But as more of his authentic human form emerged during our half hour conversation, I was hopeful that we might yet be able to one day watch a rugby match together between the Springbok and Wallaby test teams, as he had suggested we do. However, I was in August 2008 still very much on my guard against a manipulative charm offensive. He would not be the first to use ‘mediation talks’ merely as a tactic to achieve a hidden agenda of co-option. The mining rights had only been suspended, not revoked at that stage. The ‘hurly burly’ was not yet done. The battle was not yet lost or won.

It was only three years later, in December 2011, that the tipping point was coming into view and inclining me to make peace, but still not without conditions. From what I could discern from shareholders reports lodged on the Australian Stock Exchange, MRC looked to be in deep financial trouble. The Xolobeni mining rights had been revoked, but the Minister had left a back door open for them to start from scratch and reapply, ‘provided they could satisfy all legislative requirements, and address environmental concerns’. I called him to ask what he planned to do. Was he ready to concede defeat and walk away? Would he help me unmask the next layer of Powers so that I could engage them?

He was categorical that MRC intended to reapply for the mining rights. ‘John, one thing is certain. We are going to mine at Xolobeni.’

There was bravado in his voice. I did not argue with him, saying only that if that was ever to happen, it was important that we at least embraced the lessons on offer, which I planned to document in a book. ‘I want to be truthful and fair to all stakeholders Mark,’ I said, ‘especially to you, because notwithstanding our differences I have appreciated your willingness to engage’.

‘Good luck to you John. If your book is all about the practical tangible benefits John Clarke has made in the lives of the local people’ he mocked, ‘it is going to be a very thin book!’

I had heard it all before, but I was in a generous mood. I let him ventilate without comment.

He went on, ‘Hey, why don’t you let me write the epilogue. For the last word in the story is how we are going to successfully mine at Xolobeni.’

Working up a head of steam, another, better idea occurred to him. ‘I tell you what, I will pay you for a thousand copies of your book to distribute to those desperately poor and helpless people at Xolobeni so they can use it for firewood instead of cutting down the forests.’

Listening to him, a strange sense of déjà-vu rippled through my head. Not a flashback to anything from my own direct experience, but from Alastair McIntosh’s profound insight on how ‘mendacity lubricates normality’; how ‘blind spots do not show up as dark patches’; how toxic concentrations of power and wealth distort perception and understanding. Alastair reflects back on his engagement with the Laird of the Island of Eigg, Keith Schellenberg, who couldn’t understand why his acts of generosity toward the Crofter community who lived on ‘his island’ were not appreciated, and why they wanted to buy him out, and see the back of him[1].

‘Often when I spoke with him, it was clear that he was genuinely confused and distressed as to why people did not appreciate what he gave to them. Like all who substitute charity for justice, he missed a crucial point, cogently made by Paulo Freire:

In order to have the continued opportunity to express their “generosity,” the oppressor must perpetuate injustice as well. An unjust social order is the permanent fount of this “generosity”, which is nourished by death, despair and poverty….. True generosity consists precisely in fighting to destroy the causes, which nourish false charity. False charity constrains the fearful and the subdued, the “rejects of life”, to extend their trembling hands.

So it was that at times I’d feel sorry for this visibly ageing man with an island millstone around his neck to sell. He seemed to try in life — God, he seemed to try; but he kept crashing because he always needed to grab the steering wheel. He failed to perceive the suffocating strings that he attached to community relationships, or to how evident it was that his island was little more than just another hobby. He confessed as much himself; “Somehow it seemed more important to beat the Germans at Silverstone than to deal with a little Scottish island,” he told Harpers & Queen. “The race put it all in perspective….. I’m not worried if I don’t win. I just don’t want to lose.”’

During our previous conversation in August 2008, Mark Caruso had used a metaphor from motor racing to rationalise his interest. I imagined he and Schellenberg would surely have got on well. Alastair’s reflections and forgiving attitude left me feeling strangely compassionate toward Schellenberg, and by implication toward Mark Caruso: yes even toward Cecil John Rhodes and Nazir Alli; all trapped in a trap shaped by their unnatural ‘nature’, as Vickers had so perceptively explained in his Freedom in a Rocking Boat[2]. Alastair explains the nature of the trap.

‘I do not believe people like Schellenberg are conscious of constructing reality to legitimise their power. This process is inevitable in a ruling class who since childhood have generally been emptied out from within themselves and are desperate for a world to fill their emptiness. Money lets them create a world of their own. For them, this is “the real world”, but for everyone else — for those whose lives are but props on their stage, — the make-believe nature of such fairy-tale lives is obvious. The cardinal rule is that you don’t name the game; you don’t name the powers and thereby shatter their veneer. And if you don’t play the game, your job, home, sanity and reputation may be at stake.

Your role, then, if looking at power from the underside, is to help “keep up appearances”. Indeed, it is your role to prop up what Scott Peck calls “the people of the lie” with their delusions of family, class, gender, or racial superiority that justify privilege. Here mendacity lubricates “normality”. It’s not that the rich and the powerful mean to lie; it’s just that their reality is plastic. It can be moulded as much as money can buy. Agreements, memories, and even histories become reconfigured in the mind as image defines reality rather than the other way around.’

For a full century after the annexation of Pondoland, the corrupting, distorting effect of power was tightly held by a white minority regime saturated by the syndrome Alastair so perceptively describes, manifested by Keith Schellenberg. Notwithstanding my conscientious decision to oppose that, I could not deny that I had benefitted from those injustices by virtue of the accident of being born white. Moreover, as a male in the predominantly female profession of social work I had also been the willing beneficiary of ‘affirmative action’ to correct the prevailing imbalance, because of another arbitrary accident of birth, my male gender. I had received a State bursary that my female colleagues were denied. What blind spots still remained, distorting my ability to see reality from the perspective of those discriminated against? Alastair’s next paragraph was cause for me to ponder very long and very hard before rushing into print to tell this story.

‘Of course, we all do this (including the writers of books), but when those with power over others do it, they force their world on to their servitors — the ghillies, the housemaids, the waiters, and yes, the artists, accountants and lawyers, too.

In such a world huge emphasis is placed on politeness: on having ‘good manners’. You are part of the ‘establishment’ only if you ‘know how to behave’, if you ‘know your place’, if you know how to dress, speak and even eat ‘properly’. It is a question, as the French Sociologist Pierre Bourdieu says, of expressing the right ‘taste’. If things were otherwise, the rich would not be able to live with themselves. The need to believe their own story, to keep in position the lens that focuses their own privilege. While some of this is just harmless ego posturing, much of it injures others. Victim blaming, inferioritisation, and even charity, contribute to maintaining that edifice. All demarcate the boundary between the ‘in group’ of the elite, and the majority ‘out group’. Scapegoating controls the poor, if they are ‘bad’, or just by patronising if they are ‘good’. The underlying sanction of punishment usually goes unspoken and thereby renders invisible the violence that keeps justice suppressed.’

Breaking out of the trap can only happen if we allow the deeper, authentic self, an acceptance of our true nature, to emerge.

‘But the terrible price to be paid by the rich is to be untrue to one’s own self. Mammon’s only jewels are human hearts. Moloch is an empty stone god. That’s the trouble with false gods: at the end of the day they let you down. Being death, they have no life of their own to share: only the transient proceeds of vampirism, sucked from other people’s lives and from the Earth itself.

The false gods exist only as emergent properties of their own fears. We make the graven images, the idols. And if we let these reflections of our psychic shadow overcome us, if we let ourselves die spiritually, we will indeed find no God, no Heaven; because the god we were looking for was death, and death is, precisely, non-being.

Such are the dynamics of what in olden days was called ‘Hell’, the fire being only to warm an otherwise icy space, the brimstone only a suffocating smokescreen,[3]

Nonhle had failed to see anything approximating ‘paradise’ in the living conditions of Mpondo mineworkers at Marikana, but Mark Caruso quite obviously believed that the Amadiba community were living in hell, and that his Xolobeni mining venture was going to be their emancipation into paradise. He really did seem personally convinced that his mining venture would be beneficial in the long term, even to the point of dismissing any examination of ‘questionable practices’ in pursuit thereof, such as his former employee, Bashin Qunya, threatening to ‘ring my bell’

I asked Mark if he was prepared to help me at the very least to ensure that the gross injustices now evident might now be faced in a spirit of truth and reconciliation. He was extremely helpful, far more than I think he realised

‘Have you read Darwin’s Voyage of the Beagle, John?’ he asked.

‘Yes, Mark. In fact I have it on my shelf. I quote from Darwin in the beginning of my book.’

‘Good then you will understand…’

Mark, true to the Explorer archetype had also found insight from the explorations of Darwin. Not the same insights that I had gained, to be sure, but I was gobsmacked to hear my enemy quoting from the very same source from which I had found inspiration, in understanding life.

As he bent my ear with his interpretations of current reality in the light of Darwin’s discoveries, I felt the long ‘arc of the moral universe’ was being recalibrated to take a steeper curve toward justice. The synchronicity that had both of us reading Charles Darwin’s Voyage of the Beagle to try and make sense of life, did not impart instantaneous understanding of the moral universe. However, it was enough to inform my conscience (and hopefully his) to better divine the direction and the inclination of the arc. It was, paradoxically, exactly what I needed to nerve me against panic and seduction and to carry on (regardless of threat and harassment), to support both Wayne Duvenage and Kumkani as their respective court cases oscillated through the courtrooms during the following year.

More specifically he gave me what I needed to confirm my discernment in the contemporary conspiracy of political and economic powers seeking to force the Xolobeni mining and N2 Wild Coast Toll Road developments upon the Mpondo, the same dynamic of mutual blackmail that trapped Rhodes and Chamberlain more than a century before. It gave me confidence and conviction to pen my report to Minister Collins Chabane without fear of contradiction; and to doggedly support Kumkani on the swings and Wayne on the roundabouts, as their court cases swung back and forth, culminating in the OUTA Supreme Court Appeal hearing in September 2013.

However, nobody was supposed to die!

[1] McIntosh, A., 2001, Soil and Soul: People versus Corporate Power, London: Aurum, pp174–176. For kindle edition see Alastair’s webpage is

[2] Vickers, G., 1972, Freedom In A Rocking Boat: Changing Values In An Unstable Society. Pelican

[3] Excerpt from Soil and Soul. Alastair McIntosh, 2004. Aurum Books. pp173–175.



John GI Clarke

Social worker, Writer, Justice monitor and YouTube content producer. Connecting people. Managing ideas. Choosing life