A Constitutional Endorsement for Direct Democracy in Customary Law

In the Royal Bafokeng Nation “a king is a king by virtue of the people” (Kgosi ke Kgosi ka Morafe). This was endorsed by the South African High Court in a decision extending the principle of direct democracy in the Royal Bafokeng Nation’s (RBN) customary law.

The court had to decide if the RBN could institute significant legal proceedings without consulting the community. These proceedings were of great public concern because it would impact the registration of community land, and impact a long running community dispute regarding the rightful ownership of property.

After analysing RBN’s customary practices, and considering the contentious nature of the legal matter, the court held that the Supreme Council of the RBN couldn’t unilaterally decide to institute litigation of this magnitude – there was a legal duty to consult widely with the community beforehand.

Because there was no wide consultation with the community, the court found that the RBN had no authority to institute the legal proceedings, and that RBN’s attorneys had no authority to act in the legal proceedings.

The Nature of the Legal Dispute

The Minister of Land Affairs was reflected as the registered owner who held over 60 properties “in trust for” the Royal Bafokeng Nation. The RBN disputed the existence of any trust or trust relationship between the Minister and the RBN, and asked the court to declare the RBN as the owner of these properties, and to direct the Registrar of Deeds to register the properties its name.

The Bafokeng Land Buyer Association (the Association) is a group of RBN community members who claim that they are the rightful owners of some of the properties because these properties were originally bought by their ancestors. The Association intervened in RBN’s case as an interested party.

Consultation Structures in the Royal Bafokeng Nation

The Royal Bafokeng Nation is a traditional community of approximately 300,000 people, recognised in terms of the Traditional Leadership and Governance Framework Act, No 41 of 2003. The RBN has three levels in its governance structure.

The Supreme Council (L1) is the upper most structure. It is a joint sitting of the RBN’s executive council and the Council of Dikgosana (L3). The Supreme Council meets four times a year, and has historically taken important decisions relating to the community. It ultimately takes few decisions, however, and serves chiefly as a forum for discussion and information sharing.

The Kgotha Kgothe (L2) is a broader community level. It is a general meeting of all of the community members. The Kgotha Kgothe meets two times a year. It is generally not a decision making body, but it serves as a forum for the RBN administration to report back to community members, and for community members to raise matters for discussion. All important matters go before the Kgotha Kgothe (L2) for debate and input, and the members at the meeting can overturn any decision.

The Makgotla (L3) operates at a local level. The community has 29 villages divided into 72 Dikgoro (wards). Each Dikgoro (ward) is led by a hereditary Dikgosana, and meets monthly in its local Kgotla. The Dikgosana also sit as part of the Supreme Council (L1). Community members may ask their Dikgosana to take any local matter up to the Supreme Council (L1). The monthly Kgotla (L3) meetings play a vital governance role, and all disputes are mediated and resolved at this level.

In this structure democracy works from the bottom upwards. The members of the community participate directly in the Makgotla (L3) and the Kgotha Kgothe (L2). They are also represented by their Dikgosana (L2) at the meetings of the Supreme Council (L1).

The Associations Legal Challenge to the Supreme Council’s Decision

During September 2005 the Royal Bafokeng Nation’s Supreme Council passed a resolution authorising the institution of legal proceedings. The Association directly challenged this resolution because the Supreme Council “does not have the power to make a decision of this sort, at least not alone. Insofar as the Council does have decision-making powers on such matters, it has to consult very broadly within the traditional community before doing so, and act on the community’s wishes”.

It was common cause that the resolution was passed by the Supreme Council without any discussion within the Makgotla (L3) or Kgotha Kgothe (L2). There was also no report back to the community after the resolution was passed.

The court accordingly had to determine if the Supreme Council had a legal obligation to consult broadly with the community before taking this decision.

The court analysed the decision making structures, the values publically pronounced by the Kgosi (King), and past practice. The court found that it was part of the RBN’s customary law that all matters of a “public concern” had to be referred to broad consultation for the community to debate. The court, however, disagreed with the argument that the Kgosi (King) had the sole right to determine which matters were of a “public concern” and needed to be referred to broader consultation.

The court emphasised that customary law must be interpreted in light of the South African Constitution and its values, finding that public consultation and participation in decision making is a key component in promoting and strengthening democracy, and protecting rights and freedoms. Without a duty to consult the community, the community wouldn’t have any ability to participate in the management of their assets.

The court accordingly held that there is a duty under RBN’s customary law to consult with the community on matters of public importance. The Supreme Council’s failure to consult with the community regarding the legal proceedings meant that there was no valid decision to proceed with the court case.


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Removing the Court’s Power to Decide for the Minister of Mineral Resources

Public officials’ decisions aren’t always flawless when applying the Mineral and Petroleum Resources Development Act, No 28 of 2002 (MPRDA), and there are often situations where the Minister of Mineral Resources makes an incorrect decision. In these circumstances a person is not without any legal remedies. It is possible to bring a court application to set aside the incorrect decision, and refer the matter back to the minister for reconsideration.

As a more expedient alternative to referring a matter back to the minister, it became common to ask the court to take the decision directly, and grant the application. The court is asked to step into the shoes of the minister and make the decision itself. This is known as “substitutionary relief”.

The recent decision of the Supreme Court of Appeal in the case of Pan African Mineral Development Company (Pty) Ltd and others v Aquila Steel (S Africa) (Pty) Ltd may, however, put an end to substitutionary relief when it comes to the grant of applications for prospecting and mining rights.

The Courts General Power to Grant Substitutionary Relief

Any state decision must be lawful, reasonable, and procedurally fair. If not a court may be approached to “review” the infringing action in terms of the Promotion of Administrative Justice Act 3 of 2000 (PAJA).

Courts are rightly hesitant to grant substitutionary relief, being careful not to overstep its role and perform acts that fall into the realm the state. Generally, there are four situations where a court will be prepared to grant substitutionary relief without referring the matter back for reconsideration, namely when:

  • the end result is a forgone conclusion;
  • the court is as well qualified as the original authority to make the decision;
  • any further delay will cause unjustifiable prejudice; or
  • the original decision maker has exhibited bias or incompetence.

The Re-Examination of Substitutionary Relief for Certain Decision in terms of the MPRDA

It became common to ask for substitutionary relief when challenging a decision on the grant of prospecting or mining rights. Without substitutionary relief, the court sets aside the incorrect decision, and then refers the matter back to the minister for fresh determination. This increases the time that it takes to resolve the matter and be granted the application.

It has been argued that a court is entitled to grant substitutionary relief and grant a prospecting or mining right because the minister is compelled to grant these applications if they meet the set requirements. If the application “ticks all the boxes”, then the result is a foregone conclusion because the minister must grant the application, and the court is as well placed as the minister to determine if the application is compliant.

The Supreme Court of Appeal’s recent decision challenges this argument. Here there were two overlapping applications. Aquila Steel brought a High Court application to set aside both the minister’s decision to accept Ziza’s prospecting application and the decision to grant Ziza a prospecting right.

The High Court accepted the argument that Ziza’s application was defective, and that Aquila Steel’s application was the sole application that could be considered and granted. The High Court granted substitutionary relief:

  • setting aside the minister’s decisions regarding the various applications; and
  • substituting the minister’s decision with the court’s decision to grant Aquila Steel a mining right, on terms to be decided by the minister within 3 months.

On appeal this decision to grant of substitutionary relief was criticised, and it was held that the court didn’t have the power to grant substitutionary relief in respect of the decision to grant Aquila Steel a mining right for two reasons.

First, the minister’s power to grant a mining right, and the minister’s power to impose conditions on the mining right, are inextricably linked. It is impossible to separate these two decisions – a grant of the mining right without considering what conditions should be imposed is an invalid exercise of power. The High Court, however, attempted to separate these decisions when it left the imposition of any conditions up to the minister. This meant that the High Court’s order was misconceived and susceptible to attack on this basis.

Secondly, the information in the mining right application was 7 years old, and possibly outdated. This meant that the grant of the mining right was not a foregone conclusion.

The End of Substitutionary Relief

The courts argument in respect of substitutionary relief for the grant of a mining right would apply equally to the grant of a prospecting right.

The Supreme Court of Appeal has held that the decision to grant a right in terms of the MPRDA is inextricably linked to the conditions that the minister may impose on the right. A court can’t make a decision to grant the right, and then order the minister to impose conditions as the minister deems fit.

A person would be hard pressed to think of a set of facts where it could be confidently argued that the conditions that should be imposed on a prospecting or mining right is a foregone conclusion, and that the court is as well placed as the minister to impose a set of conditions.

It may well be that the Aquila Steel case has put an end to the grant of substitutionary relief when it comes to the grant of prospecting and mining rights in terms of the MPRDA. If not, the Aquila Steel case has drastically limited the cases where the granting of this relief by a court would be appropriate.

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2018 Budget: The Regulation of Crypto Currency

Last Wednesday the South African Minister of Finance, Mr Malusi Gigaba, gave his first and possibly last budget speech for the 2018/2019 year.

The headline grabbing announcement was  the 1% increase in the value added tax rate that will be used to fund free tertiary education for poor and working class families. Towards the end of his speech though my attention was caught by his remarks on an anticipated strengthening of the regulations governing the South African FinTech market. His full comment, courtesy of the published transcript of the budget 2018 speech:

“Work will continue on reforming the legislation for financial markets and the payment system, to ensure that our infrastructure remains globally competitive. The Treasury is working with the Reserve Bank, Financial Services Board and other government entities towards a regulatory framework for all types of FinTech.

For instance, the emergence of cryptocurrencies is a major development to which our regulatory regime must respond.”

So, is there some Bitcoin crypto currency regulation on the way for South Africa? Unfortunately the National Treasury’s Budget Review doesn’t give any more clarity despite being almost 300 pages long.

Budget Review, on page 136:

“Tax treatment of cryptocurrency transactions: Cryptocurrencies are addressed by existing provisions in South African tax law. Cryptocurrencies pose risks to the income tax system as they are extremely volatile and their sustainability is uncertain. At the same time, the supply of cryptocurrency can cause administrative difficulties in the VAT system. To address these issues, it is proposed that the income tax and VAT legislation be amended.”

Budget Review, on page 160:

“In 2018, the Reserve Bank, together with the other domestic financial sector regulators, will publish a position paper on the evolving uses of private cryptocurrencies. A cryptocurrency is a digital asset that is used as a medium of exchange. It uses cryptography to secure transactions, both to control the creation of additional units and to verify the transfer of assets.”

There might not be anything concrete yet, but it does seem like additional regulation of the FinTech industry and crypto currencies is planned.


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Strict Compliance isn’t Strictly Required by the MPRDA

In South Africa only one person can hold a valid prospecting or mining right for a particular mineral on land in terms of the governing Mineral and Petroleum Resources Development Act, No 28 of 2002 (MPRDA).

To ensure that no conflicting rights are granted, an application system akin to queuing is used. The first person to lodge a prospecting right application for a particular mineral is first in queue, and no prospecting right applications submitted afterwards can be considered or granted until the first application has been rejected (section 16(2)). In addition, a person that is granted a prospecting right over land for a particular mineral has the sole and exclusive right to apply for, and be granted, the relevant mining right (section 19(1)).

Unfortunately, it’s possible for the system not to work as intended, and for the Department of Mineral Resources (DMR) to issue overlapping prospecting and mining rights for the same mineral. In these circumstances an aggrieved person can use the MPRDA’s internal appeal process to review the DMR’s administrative decision to issue the conflicting right, and have the conflicting right set aside (section 96(1)). The after the initial internal appeal an unsuccessful party may have the option to approach the High Court for relief in terms of the Promotion of Administrative Justice Act 3 of 2000 (PAJA).

This is where complex legal arguments often start, with both parties contending to convince the court that their application was the first valid application that was submitted to the DMR, and that the other parties prospecting or mining right is the right that should be set aside as being invalidly granted. The importance of being the first valid application that was submitted to the DMR was demonstrated in the case of Pan African Mineral Development Company (Pty) Ltd and others v Aquila Steel (S Africa) (Pty) Ltd .

In this case the Supreme Court of Appeal’s decision hinged on whether the first prospecting right application in the queue was fatally defective because it didn’t strictly comply with the requirements of the MPRDA, and whether the DMR was entitled to consider the next conflicting application in the queue because of the first applications non-compliance.

It was not disputed that the first application was non-compliant with the MPRDA, but the Supreme Court ultimately found that even though there was non-compliance, the non-compliance did not render the first application fatally defective. Because the first application in queue was not fatally defective and had not been refused by the DMR, the Supreme Court held that the DMR’s decision to grant the second conflicting right was the invalid decision, and that the second conflicting right was the right that should be set aside.

The Original Decision of the High Court

This case was first heard in the Gauteng High Court as Aquila Steel (South Africa) Limited v the Minister of Mineral Resources and others, which I discussed here previously. The timeline relating to the two overlapping applications is as follows:

  • On 19 April 2005 Ziza Limited (Ziza) submitted a prospecting right application.
  • A year later, on 18 April 2006, Aquila Steel (South Africa) Limited (Aquila) submitted prospecting right application. Aquila’s application was granted on 11 October 2006.
  • On 26 February 2008 Ziza’s prospecting right application was granted. There were now two prospecting rights granted over the same land for the same mineral.
  • On 14 December 2010 Aquila applied for a mining right. This application was, however, now refused by the DMR because the DMR alleged that of Ziza’s prior application was in queue before Aquila’s, and that Aquila’s right shouldn’t have been granted originally

It was common cause that Ziza’s application didn’t strictly comply with the requirements of the MPRDA because it didn’t include the prescribed coordinated map showing the land that the application extended over.

The wording of the section 16(3) of the MPRDA when the applications were submitted and decided was the following:

If the application does not comply with the requirements of this section, the Regional Manager must notify the applicant in writing of the fact within 14 days of receipt of the application and return the application to the applicant.” (own emphasis).

Aquila argued that because Ziza’s application was not complete, the application could not be accepted by the regional manager and it would have to have been “returned” to Ziza. It argued that because the act required return of the application, when Aquila submitted its application there would have been no prior pending application for a prospecting right. Aquila’s application would have been the only valid application, and consequentially the only valid prospecting right, over the contested area.

Ziza counter argued that the defect in its application didn’t mean that its application automatically failed and had to be rejected by the DMR. It argued that a defective application can be amended after submission to remedy defects.

The High Court accepted that the application was defective, and turned its analysis to what the required notifying and “returning the application to the applicant” meant in terms of the then section 16(3) of the MPRDA. Did this mean the application was rejected, or did it mean that the process was merely suspended to allow the applicant to amend its application?

The court considered the objective of the MPRDA to prevent sterilisation of mineral resources. This would be hindered if the return of the application allowed the applicant to amend a defective application. The act didn’t specify any timelines that the amendment must be done, meaning that an applicant could delay the entire procedure by not amending the application (or taking years to amend as in the present case), effectively sterilising the minerals by preventing other companies from applying for prospecting rights over the land.

The court also considered the practicalities of “returning the application”. This means the DMR has no record of the application other than the day that it was received and returned. Crucially the DMR wouldn’t have records of the minerals or land that the application related to.

The court concluded that a “return” of a non-compliant application to allow an applicant to remedy defects amounts to a rejection of the application.

The high court held that:

  • Ziza’s prospecting right application was fatally defective because it failed to strictly comply with the requirements of the MPRDA – Ziza had failed to include the prescribed coordinated map showing the land that the application extended over;
  • the DMR was required to “return” a non-compliant application in terms of section 16(3) of the MPRDA;
  • the “return” of Ziza’s application would mean that the application had been rejected;
  • if Ziza subsequently amended its application, then the amended application would have to be treated as a new application; and
  • it was therefore not competent for the DMR to accept and grant Ziza’s application for a prospecting right.

The court accordingly set aside both the DMR’s decision to accept Ziza’s prospecting application and the decision to grant Ziza a prospecting right.

The Reversal of the High Court’s Decision on Appeal

Ziza appealed the decision to the Supreme Court of Appeal, which reversed the High Court’s decision and found in Ziza’s favour.

The Supreme Court first considered a question overlooked by the High Court – was Ziza’s application fatally defective because it didn’t strictly comply with the requirements of the MPRDA by not including the prescribed coordinated map? (See the courts full discussion in paragraph 19 to 22.)

Statutory requirements, such as the requirements that a prospecting application must comply with, are generally either:

  • mandatory (peremptory) requirements, which needs exact compliance and where purported compliance that falls short of the requirements is a nullity; or
  • directory requirements, which although desirable to comply with will have no legal consequences if not complied with (footnote 22).

The requirements of the MPRDA in relation to applications for prospecting rights are framed as mandatory requirements that require strict compliance. The applicable section states that “[a]ny person who wishes to apply to the Minister for a prospecting right … must lodge the application … in the prescribed manner” (section 16(1)(b)). Aquila argued that because Ziza didn’t comply with the mandatory requirements set out in the regulations, its application was a nullity.

The Supreme Court, however, recognised that a third category of statutory requirements had been developed that lay between mandatory and directory requirements. These are statutory requirements that are framed as mandatory requirements but that only require substantial compliance in order to be legally effective.

The Supreme Court endorsed its previously held view that not every deviation from the literal prescription of an act should be fatal. The question that should be asked is “whether, in spite of the defects, the objective of the statutory provision had been achieved” (paragraph 20).

The Supreme Court held that even though Ziza’s application did not strictly comply with the requirements of the MPRDA by including the prescribed coordinated map showing the land that the application extended over, Ziza had substantially complied and had given the DMR sufficient information in order for the DMR to identify the relevant properties and log them onto the application system. The additional information included in Ziza’s application included:

  • hand drawn plans that identified the co-ordinates;
  • the registered descriptions of the farms;
  • the co-ordinates of the total area; and
  • the description of the old order rights in respect of which the application was made, which included the farm details, area size and grid reference.

The Supreme Court held that Ziza had substantially complied with the requirements of the MPRDA and that it could not be suggested that the DMR was unaware of the properties that formed part of Ziza’s application.

On the question of whether a return of the application, as required by the MPRDA at the time, constituted a refusal by the DMR, the Supreme Court held that there is an important distinction between the “return” and the “refusal” of an application – a return is exercised by the regional manager of the DMR and gives the applicant with an opportunity to supplement its application, while a refusal is exercised by the Minister, not the regional manager.

Conclusion

The Aquila judgement doesn’t eliminate the need for applicants to comply with the requirements of the MPRDA in order to ensure that the DMR can’t reject their application.

The judgement does, however, clarify that the statutory requirements in the MPRDA should not be viewed as mandatory (peremptory) requirements that need to be strictly complied with in order to ensure that an application is valid.

This may ensure that an application for a prospecting right will not fail merely if a single statutory requirement was not met, or if a single document was omitted from the application.

The important consideration is if there was sufficient compliance with the requirements in order for the objectives of the MPRDA to be achieved. An application may still be rejected by the DMR, or a prospecting right or mining right may still be set aside, if it can be shown that the level of compliance was insufficient.

Related Reading:


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The Future of Bitcoin Regulation in Africa

The launch of the first Bitcoin future for trade in the United States of America during December 2017 has brought significant public attention to both the Bitcoin crypto currency, and the underlying bitcoin network (blockchain technology protocol that the crypto currency is built on).

When looking at the future of Bitcoin and blockchains, and the potential impact that these can have in the various African markets, an area to keep an eye on is various governments’ possible approaches to the regulation of crypto currencies. Various attempts at regulation have already been seen in other parts of the world, and it is still to be seen what the reaction of some African governments, and regulators, will be.

From a government regulatory perspective, the desire to regulate crypto currencies like Bitcoin arises primarily from their ability to be used as an untraceable digital cash system.

Even though Bitcoin transactions happen publicly on the blockchain, and it’s possible to view all transactions that happen and see the exact details of all amounts transferred between addresses on the blockchain, it’s not possible to easily link these transactions with a person’s real identity. The Bitcoin crypto currency offers pseudonymity when transacting, meaning that it is an almost-untraceable digital cash.

Untraceable digital cash poses various problems to governments.

One problem is the enforcement of capital controls. Bitcoin makes it trivial to bypass laws restricting to limit of the flow of capital into or out of a country. This is done by liquidating assets in one country, buying Bitcoin, and then transferring those Bitcoins into or out of a country.

This “problem” is, however, also the source of one of Bitcoins advantages to people adopting it. In this context Bitcoin makes remittances of money by migrant workers back to their family in their home country quick, cheap, and easy.

Another problem is difficulties surrounding money-laundering. This is because it may not be possible to identify or authenticate the real identity behind each transfer of Bitcoin.

The difficulties with, and sometimes dangers of, untraceable digital cash can be illustrated by the “Silk Road” website that was operated over the internet as a TOR hidden service. The Silk Road was an anonymous marketplace that offered various goods, including illegal drugs, in exchange for Bitcoin. The untraceable Bitcoin system allowed people to exchange value in the form of untraceable digital cash (Bitcoin) without ever having to reveal their real identities. This website was able to operate from February 2011 to October 2013, before being shut down. When shut down law enforcement was able to seize 170,000 Bitcoins (which would have a value of more than $2,550,000,000.00 at the peak December 2017 prices).

Governments could use to try to address these problems is by strictly regulating Bitcoin exchanges, making it difficult for a person to turn large amounts of local currency into Bitcoin, or to buy large amounts of Bitcoin with local currency.

Existing, and potentially new, anti money-laundering laws could also be applied businesses and to Bitcoin transactions. These could include “know your customer” requirements, and mandatory reporting requirements that require businesses to identify and authenticate their customers, and to report transactions over a certain monetary threshold.

Another, more draconian, method to address these problems is the outright banning of the use of Bitcoins by businesses.

It is impossible to predict what steps countries in Africa will take in the future to regulate Bitcoin and other crypto currencies. Each country will no doubt adopt the approach that they think best given the particular countries unique economic and cultural circumstances.

What is important, however, is to understand to what extent existing laws in each market could extend to Bitcoin transactions, and properly adapt to any new laws that are adopted in the future.


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Reduced Profits is not Expropriation

The South African Constitutional Court has held that property owner doesn’t have a legal right to value property using a particular method, or to get a specific value when selling the property. In South African Diamond Producers Organisation v Minister of Minerals and Energy the court found that a change to the way a market is regulated isn’t unlawful deprivation of property by the state, and isn’t unconstitutional.

The court was asked to consider the changes to the market practice commonly used by diamond producers when selling diamonds, which is regulated in terms of the Diamonds Act (No 56 of 1986). Previously, diamond producers could use so-called “tender houses”, where non-licenced foreign experts, representing foreign buyers, would assist licenced purchasers with their purchase of parcels of unpolished diamonds.

The Diamond Act was amended to prohibit unlicensed experts from assisting licenced purchasers, effectively outlawing the common business practice used in tender houses. Two constitutional questions were raised against the legal amendments. First, does the prohibition of the market practice result in an unlawful deprivation of property? Secondly, does the prohibition of the market practice infringe on a person’s right to choose a trade?

The court held that the amendments to the Diamonds Act were constitutional; confirming government’s right to regulate markets and change regulations, even when changes decrease the market value that could be realised when selling goods.

*****

On the first constitutional question – unlawful deprivation of property – the South African Diamond Producers Organisation (SADPO) argued that outlawing of the tender house practice deprived diamond producers of the right to receive full market value for their property when selling diamonds because they could now only market to local licence holders. They argued that a key part of the markets price-forming mechanism was being prohibited, leading to a 30% reduction in the market value that diamond producers could realise. This, they argued, was an interference with the right to alienate property at the highest possible price.

The test the Constitutional Court applies a three stage test to determine if there has been an unconstitutional deprivation of property by the state, (i) is the thing being considered “property”; (ii) is there a “deprivation” of that property; and (iii) is the deprivation arbitrary. If all three questions are answered affirmatively, then the deprivation of the property by the state is unlawful.

The Constitutional Court has held in previous cases that property doesn’t need to be physically taken in order for there to be deprivation. To be classified as a deprivation of property there must, however, be some form of substantial interference going beyond normal restrictions that an open and democratic society would place on property.

The court recognised that a diamond producer has a clear constitutional property right in the physical diamonds themselves, but it was not convinced that these property rights were deprived by merely changing the regulations governing the methods that may be used to sell the property.

The producers still had a right to sell their property, albeit now using different methods. Even if a 30% loss in market value could be proved, this isn’t depravation of the producer’s property rights because they could still sell their diamonds and receive full market value. The only effect was in the methods that could be used to sell the diamonds and the market conditions that determine the highest price – the right to sell was not impacted by the legal amendments.

The court held that markets are inherently regulated, and that an owner of property doesn’t have a legal right to value his goods using a particular method, or to obtain a specific value for his goods – there is no protectable interest to conduct a sale using a particular practice.

On the first constitutional question, the court accordingly held that there was no deprivation of property by the state through the amendments to the Diamonds Act that outlawed the business practice used in tender houses.

*****

On the second constitutional question – the infringement of the right to trade – SADPO alleged that that outlawing the tender house practice infringed its members right to conduct their business as they deemed fit, breaching their freedom of trade, and their right to conduct an occupation or profession.

The court held that this constitutional right had two distinct elements.

The first element was if the right to choose a trade, occupation or profession was limited. The court held that the amendments didn’t place any hard legal barrier to choosing a trade. It also considered if the amendments placed an effective limit on the trade by effectively barring the entry to the trade by making the practice of the trade so undesirable or unprofitable. The court held that there was no effective limit either – the producer was still able to get assistance through either a licenced person outside of a diamond exchange and export centre (DEEC), or by an unlicensed person at a DEEC.

The second element was if the regulation of the trade was rational and related to a legitimate governmental purpose. The test for rationality is important; it is not a test of whether the regulation reasonable or effective, or whether the objectives can be achieved in better ways. The court ultimately held that the amendments to the Diamonds Act were rationally connected to the promotion of local beneficiations and the monitoring of the movement of unpolished diamonds.

*****

The court rejected all suggestions that the outlawing the tender houses were unconstitutional, holding that the reduction of a producers profits resulting from a change in the regulation of a market is not unlawful deprivation of property because no property was in fact deprived, and doesn’t infringe the right to conduct a trade if the regulation has a rational purpose.


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The Marikana Massacre

It has been five years since the evils of the Marikana Massacre.

… To the earnest student it must be apparent that the accumulated forces in our social and economic life, culminating in a political act of violence, are similar to the terrors of the atmosphere, manifested in storm and lightning.

To thoroughly appreciate the truth of this view, one must feel intensely the indignity of our social wrongs; one’s very being must throb with the pain, the sorrow, the despair millions of people are daily made to endure. Indeed, unless we have become a part of humanity, we cannot even faintly understand the just indignation that accumulates in a human soul, the burning, surging passion that makes the storm inevitable.

The ignorant mass looks upon the man who makes a violent protest against our social and economic iniquities as upon a wild beast, a cruel, heartless monster, whose joy it is to destroy life and bathe in blood; or at best, as upon an irresponsible lunatic. Yet nothing is further from the truth. As a matter of fact, those who have studied the character and personality of these men, or who have come in close contact with them, are agreed that it is their super-sensitiveness to the wrong and injustice surrounding them which compels them to pay the toll of our social crimes. The most noted writers and poets, discussing the psychology of political offenders, have paid them the highest tribute. Could anyone assume that these men had advised violence, or even approved of the acts? Certainly not. Theirs was the attitude of the social student, of the man who knows that beyond every violent act there is a vital cause …

– Emma Goldman, The Psychology of Political Violence, from Anarchism and Other Essays


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The Legal Requirement to think about Global Warming

During March 2017 the High Court of South Africa in Pretoria, handed down a decision that has been hailed in some quarters as a victory in the fight against dirty energy and global warming. The court’s decision in isolation isn’t a decisive victory for the proponents of clean energy, but it does add an important tool that can be used in future fights, not only against coal fired power stations, but also in broader environmental challenges against the dirty energy and extractive sectors.

Earthlife Africa Johannesburg asked the court to set aside the Department of Environmental Affairs’ decision to grant an environmental authorisation to the preferred bidder, Thabametsi Power, that was selected to build a 1,200 MW coal fired power station near Lephalale in the Limpopo Province. If set aside, construction would be delayed until a new environmental authorisation could be applied for and granted.

Earthlife argued that the environmental authorisation should be set aside because a climate change impact assessment had not been conducted, meaning firstly that all the relevant environmental factors had not been considered before the environmental authorisation was granted, and secondly that the decision to grant an environmental authorisation without considering a climate change impact assessment rendered the decision irrational and unreasonable.

The court decided in Earthlife’s favour, setting aside the environmental authorisation. The matter was referred back to the minister’s internal appeal process, giving the minister the opportunity to consider the climate change impact assessment report that had been prepared by Thabametsi Power after its initial environmental authorisation was granted.

The court didn’t, however, prohibit the construction of coal-fired power stations, and didn’t make any decision on whether the construction of additional coal-fired power stations should be permitted or restricted in the future. This allows the minister to decide to grant an environmental authorisation after weighing up all the relevant factors, which now includes the potential global warming impacts and South Africa’s international commitments on climate change.

The narrow questions that the court considered was if the minister had a legal obligation to consider global warming impacts of the project, and if so, did the minister have sufficient information when taking the decision to properly consider global warming as a relevant factor.

Earthlife argued that before the minister grants an environmental authorisation, all criteria set out in the National Environmental Management Act, No 107 of 1998 (NEMA) must be considered. The act requires the minister to “take into account all relevant factors, which may include …” going on to list various factors including pollution, environmental impacts and environmental degradation (section 24O). Earthlife argued that even though the section doesn’t specifically list climate or global warming impacts as a factor, these impacts fall into the non-exhaustive list of “relevant factors” and must be considered.

The department argued that there was no South African law requiring the preparation of a climate change impact assessment. It also argued that South Africa’s international obligations to reduce greenhouse gas emissions were broadly framed and in the discretion of the government, which must take into account the government’s over-riding priority to address poverty and inequality. Thabametsi Power added the arguement that to introduce a mandatory assessment the entire legal regime governing environmental impact assessments must be challenged.

The court agreed with Earthlife; NEMA’s list of “relevant factors” is non-exhaustive, meaning that the minister must consider any relevant factor even if it is not specifically listed.

The court examined the legislative and legal framework that governs South Africa’s climate change and energy policies to determine if climate change impacts are “relevant”. It considered domestic policies such as the National Climate Change Response White Paper of 2012, the Integrated Resource Plan for Electricity 2010-2030 (“IRP”) adopted by the South African cabinet, the Department of Energy’s binding determination on the mix of energy generation technologies that was adopted in terms of the Electricity Regulation Act No 4 of 2006, and South Africa’s international obligations. The legal framework overwhelmingly supports the argument that the assessment of climate change impacts and mitigation measures are relevant factors that must be considered as part of the environmental authorisation process.

After finding that the minister must consider climate change impacts, the court turned to the question of if the minister had enough information at the time to properly consider this factor.

When the minister granted the environmental authorisation, only an environmental impact assessment reports (EIR) was considered. The EIR didn’t quantify the greenhouse gas emissions, stating only that “while quantification of the relevant contribution … is difficult, the contribution is to be considered to be relatively small in the national and global context”. It also didn’t consider the impact that the coal fired power station could have on global warming, and the effects that global warming would have on water scarcity in the region. The EIR was also directly in conflict with a later climate impact report that found that the emissions from the power station could constitute up 3.9% South Africa’s total emissions after 2025.

The court found that the minister didn’t have all the legally required information when making the decision to grant the environmental authorisation, and was unable to weigh up the competing factors before making the decision.

The court didn’t prohibit the building of the coal powered power station, but only ordered that the decision to grant the environmental authorisation was to be remitted back to the minister so that the minister could consider the climate change impact assessment report and comments on the report submitted by any interested and affected parties.

The decision in this case should serve as a call for all parties to fully consider potential impact that projects may have on South Africa’s commitments to curtail global warming.


This work by Clinton Pavlovic is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-ShareAlike 4.0 International License.

 The unedited featured photograph by Veeterzy was published under a Creative Commons Zero Licence.

It’s Time to Reappraise Our Concept of Property

For South Africans to make substantial and lasting progress in making the ideals of the Constitution a reality, it’s necessary to recognise past injustice, reappraise the conception of ownership and property, and accept the consequences of constitutional change. These were the words of the Constitutional Court of South Africa in a judgement delivered by Froneman J in case of Daniels v Scribante and Another (2017 ZACC 13).

In this case Mrs Daniels occupied a dwelling on the landowner’s property in terms of the Extension of Security of Tenure Act No 62 of 1997 (ESTA). The landowner accepted that the state of the dwelling was degrading and not fit for a human, but the landowner nonetheless wanted to stop Mrs Daniels from the leveling the floors, paving an outside area, and installing running water, a wash basin, a second window and a ceiling. All the improvements were going to be done by Mrs Daniels at her own cost.

The court had to decide if the landowner could stop Mrs Daniels from making improvements to the dwelling to make it habitable.

The Court’s Main Judgement

The court rejected the landowner’s argument that even though Mrs Daniels had the right to live in the dwelling on their property, she did not have the right to improve the property to make it fit for human habitation. In the courts main judgement Madlanga J said that the landowner placed an overly narrow interpretation the wording of the law, ignoring the laws purpose. He said that the law is about more than just a roof over your head, and that the right to occupy a dwelling can’t be separated from other fundamental human rights, like the right to human dignity. Mrs Daniels right to occupy the dwelling (her security of tenure) includes habitability. Habitability includes the right to make improvements. If there was no right to make the improvements, then the dwellings habitability is removed, destroying an occupier’s security of tenure.

The court also rejected the landowner’s second argument that if Mrs Daniels was allowed to improve the property, then the landowner might be forced to repay these costs if she was ever evicted, in effect meaning that the landowner was being forced to fund the improvements. The landowner argued that this would be a positive obligation, but that the Bill of Rights doesn’t impose a positive duty on a landowner to ensure that an occupier lives in conditions fit for human habitation.

Importantly, the court dismissed this second argument saying that the Bill of Rights can’t be interpreted as never being able to impose positive duties on private persons. ESTA already imposes a positive duty – a duty to accommodate another person on your land. What’s needed is a weighing of all the relevant factors, and the positive nature of the obligation is only one factor considered.

Mrs Daniels’ right to human dignity and security of tenure must be weighed against the potential that a landowner may have to compensate her if she was ever evicted. The court noted that under our common law a landowner already may have to compensate tenants or occupiers on their departure under certain circumstances.

Madlanga J ordered that Mrs Daniels has the right to improve the dwelling after consulting with the landowner regarding the times that her contractors will need access to the farm.

The Court’s Rejection of Property Absolutism

The landowner’s defense was based on the concept of property absolutism, which places the property rights of an owner above all else. In a separate concurring judgement Froneman J said that it is time for South Africans to reappraise the concept of property, and to reject property absolutism.

Froneman J said that this concept arose in Europe at a time when they underwent a real socio-political struggle against feudal oppression. In the European struggle property absolutism played an important role to ensure individual freedom, but just because the concept played an important role in developing western capitalism, it doesn’t mean that the concept should continue to exist under the South African constitutional dispensation.

The concept of property absolutism didn’t play a role in determining the current land distribution in South Africa. On the contrary, land distribution was determined by a series of laws that were calculated to deprive black people of land and to create a population of wage slaves – people who couldn’t be self-sufficient and who would have to depend on employment at white owned farms and mines for survival.

Froneman J dismissed the argument that absolute protection of property rights is necessary because of modern market benefits, pointing out that this argument is an attempt to slow down or frustrate constitutional change. He said that these extra-judicial arguments, based on economic efficiency, hide their theoretical assumptions and then leap to a conclusion that the economy will suffer from any change that upsets the existing protection and distribution of property. He warned against being blind to the limits of market based exchanges.

Froneman J rejected the argument that the protection of existing property is currently needed in South Africa in order to ensure personal and economic freedom.

This judgement doesn’t in itself alter the legal dispensation, but going forward it should be used to re-evaluate the strict concept of property, and the commonly held assumption that the rights of landowners will always trump the rights of other people in our democratic society.

Indeed, it is time to accept the consequences of constitutional change.


This work by Clinton Pavlovic is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-ShareAlike 4.0 International License.

The unedited featured photograph by Katie Barrett was published under a Creative Commons Zero Licence.

Protecting Important Land Areas

During March 2017 the Supreme Court of Appeal of South Africa handed down a decision ensuring the continued environmental protection of the Makhonjwa Mountains in Mpumalanga (also known as the Barberton Greenstone Belt). This was necessary despite the area being placed on South Africa’s tentative list of world heritage sites in 2008, and despite the provincial government taking three separate actions in 1985, 1996 and 2014 to ensure that the area was protected.

In the case of Mpumalanga Tourism and Parks Agency v Barberton Mines (Pty) Limited ((216/2016) [2017] ZASCA 9 (14 March 2017)) the court was asked to decide if the Makhonjwa Mountains had legal protection from mining activities, or if a single flawed government notice meant that the government’s ongoing efforts to protect the area was for nothing.

Barberton Mines was granted a prospecting right in terms of the Minerals and Petroleum Resources Development Act, No 28 of 2002 (MPRDA). When the company wanted to start their prospecting operations they were denied access to the area by the Parks Agency. The Parks Agency alleged that the company’s prospecting right was invalid and fell to be set aside because it was granted over land that formed part of a protected area in terms of the National Environmental Management: Protected Areas Act, No 57 of 2003 (NEMPAA).

The Parks Agency appealed the Minister of Mineral Resource’s decision to grant the prospecting right using the department’s internal process, but the minister rejected this appeal. Barberton Mines then launched a court application in the North Gauteng High Court. The court held that the Makhonjwa Mountains were not protected under NEMPAA, granted Barberton Mines a court order affirming the company’s rights to prospect in the area, and ordered the Parks Agency not to prevent or interfere with the company’s prospecting activities.

Appeal to the Supreme Court

The Parks Agency took the High Court decision on appeal. It argued that the Makhonjwa Mountains is protected under NEMPAA because it is a declared, or designated, protected area. This protection prohibits anyone from conducting commercial prospecting, mining, exploration or production within its boundaries (see section 48).

Barberton Mines counter argued that the actions taken by the provincial government in 1985, 1996 and 2014 were insufficient to declare the Makhonjwa Mountains a protected area in terms of NEMPAA. It argued that the 1985 resolution was invalid because was not issued by the correct authority or published as required, and that the 1996 proclamation was void because it did not adequately describe the area – the resolution only identified the area as “Barberton Nature Reserve”, without any accompanying map or detailed area description.

The Supreme Court of Appeal affirmed that NEMPAA binds the state and trumps any other legislation if there is a conflict on the management or development of protected areas – if an area is validly declared or designated protected area then prospecting operations in the area is prohibited.

The only question that the court had to decide was whether the Makhonjwa Mountains was validly declared as a “protected area” as contemplated by NEMPAA. For this, the court placed emphasis on the 1996 proclamation, finding that it was sufficient to be considered a “declaration” or “designation” required by NEMPAA, albeit that this declaration took place before NEMPAA came into force. The court then turned its attention to Barberton Mines’ argument, and the High Court’s finding, that this proclamation must be found to be void because its description of the area was vague.

The court considered previous cases that dealt with actions to declare laws void for vagueness, including a 1955 Appellate Division case of R v Pretoria Timber Co (Pty) Limited (1950 (3) 163 (A)) that held that “[t]he degree of certainty, clarity or precision that must be present … depends on the circumstances. … The law requires reasonable and not perfect lucidity …”, and a 2006 Constitutional Court case of Affordable Medicines Trust v Minister of Health (2006 (3) SA 247 (CC)) that added that “[t]he doctrine of vagueness must recognise the role of the Government to further legitimate social and economic objectives [a]nd should not be used unduly to impede or prevent the furtherance of such objectives”.

The court stated that common sense must prevail, finding that the 1996 proclamation did not need a “faultless description couched in meticulously accurate terms in order to be valid”, only that the area should be indicated with sufficient certainty.

The court noted that the provincial government had given a particular meaning to the “Barberton Nature Reserve” since 1985. Because the 1996 proclamation is related to the detailed 1985 resolution it couldn’t be argued that people wouldn’t know what area the 1996 proclamation refers to. It is therefore valid for the 1996 proclamation to refer to the area only by name without detailing the exact area description.

The common sense approach adopted by the court is ultimately correct because minor errors in a government declaration shouldn’t prevent the government bodies from performing their important constitutional duties and achieving their social and economic objectives. The Nature of the error is, however, an important consideration. In this case the error had no real effect on the public’s ability to understand the declaration, but this doesn’t mean that in the future the court would turn a blind eye an error that truly introduces uncertainty.

The Parks Agency’s appeal was ultimately successful, effectively preventing Barberton Mines from conducting prospecting in the area which, if not certain before, is now a confirmed “protected area” under NEMPAA.

On a side note, the Supreme Court of Appeal appears to endorse the view that mining operations in a protected area might be permitted in under the MPRDA if the activities are in the national interest (section 48). The court wasn’t asked to decide this issue, but this may be an area of the law open for future debate.


This work by Clinton Pavlovic is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-ShareAlike 4.0 International License.

The unedited featured photograph by Jamie Hagan was published under a Creative Commons Zero Licence.