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.

When the Court Can’t Condone Regulatory Non-Compliance

“It’s easier to ask forgiveness than it is to get permission” is the often quoted adage coined by Grace Hopper. But, it is also important to keep another adage in mind – there is often “an exception that proves a rule”.

The dangers of not getting necessary permissions before starting construction activities in a buffer zone of an environmentally protected area was illustrated in a recent court case where two homeowners were ordered to demolish all buildings and rehabilitate the land to its pristine state.  This judgement was handed down on 19 August 2016 in the case of iSimangaliso Wetland Park Authority and Another v Feasey Property Group Holdings (Pty) Ltd and others [2016] JOL 36485 (KZP).

The homeowners’ defence was twofold. First they argued that their activities were not in fact harming the environment, meaning that no action could be taken against them. Second, they asked the court to grant them an indulgence and give them time to get the necessary permissions. These defences were rejected outright by the court.

The homeowners’ activities were taking place in a so-called “buffer zone” bordering the iSimangaliso Wetland Park. This park is a world heritage site protected by the South Africa’s World Heritage Convention Act (No 49 of 1999) and international conventions.

An environmental buffer zone is an area that is outside of the boundaries of a park that is protected to ensure that activities outside of the park can’t have a negative impact, and so that the park can integrate into its surrounding areas. Buffer zones are created by the National Environmental Management Protected Areas Act No 57 of 2003 (Protected Areas Act).

The sites where the homeowners’ activities were taking place are owned by the Government of KwaZulu Natal and the Republic of South Africa. The land hasn’t been transferred to the Ingonyama Trust, but it is still to be administered by the Ingonyama Trust in terms of the KwaZulu-Natal Ingonyama Trust (Act 3KZ of 1994). In addition, being inside the iSimangaliso Wetland Park’s buffer zone, the land falls under the jurisdiction of the iSimangaliso Wetland Park Authority.

It appears that the homeowners did attempt to get permission to occupy the sites and construct houses – they had entered into a lease agreement, albeit not with the registered owners of the land, and there was consent from the Mbila Traditional Counsel. Even so, they had not applied for any of the required environmental authorisations that were required because the sites were in a buffer zone.

The outright failure to apply for, or obtain, the required environmental authorisations was not, however, even considered by the court. The decision of the court focused exclusively on the fact that there was no valid lease agreement for the site and that the homeowners had no other right to occupy the land.

The homeowners conceded that they didn’t have a valid lease agreement or any other right to occupy or build on the sites. Their defense was whittled down to a request to the court to be granted an indulgence so that they could enter into the required agreements and apply for any environmental authorisations that were needed.

The court took a dim view of the request for an indulgence, equating it to a request for it to condone illegal actions.

The court applied an earlier decision of the Supreme Court of Appeal (Lester v Ndlambe Municipality and Another 2015 (6) SA 283 SCA) where it was said that a court does not have the discretion to give a person an indulgence to enable them to legalise an illegal use of land – the court must uphold the rule of law and prevent any on-going contravention of the law.

The court doesn’t have the power to forgive, even if forgiveness is only sought temporarily.

The result – the homeowners were ordered to vacate the sites and rehabilitate the land restoring it to a pristine state, requiring that they demolish all buildings.

The take away from this judgement is that it is important to obtain all necessary approvals before undertaking any project or development. In this case the failure to acquire a valid consent to occupy the land was the decisive factor applied by the court, but one must also be careful not to overlook any environmental authorisations that might be required taking into account the nature and location of the development.


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The Effect of Local Zoning Laws when Applying for a Mining Right

When a person is applying for a prospecting or mining right in South Africa, emphasis is placed on ensuring compliance with the provisions of the Mineral and Petroleum Resources Development Act, No 28 of 2002 (MPRDA) and other applicable national legislation that regulates environmental management.

An area of legal compliance that is sometimes overlooked is the need to comply with provincial and local land use and zoning restrictions. These can prevent mining operations even if a mining right has been granted in terms of the MPRDA. If there is a town planning ordinance that restricts the right to mine unless the land is appropriately zoned for mining, then the holder of a mining right or permit must get land use planning authorisation before starting with operations.

The failure to consider land zoning could therefore have dire consequences on a project.

To understand the interaction of national, provincial and local legislation in South Africa, some background on the different spheres of government is useful.

The Interaction between National, Provincial and Local Legislation

In South Africa the power to pass laws is divided into three government spheres – national, provincial and local (section 43 of the Constitution). Each sphere is allowed to pass legislation governing the areas that it exercises control over. The control might be exclusive or concurrent control that is exercised jointly.

The national legislature has the power to pass laws that govern any matter as long as the matter is not in the exclusive control of the provincial government (section 44(1)(a) of the Constitution). The provincial government has more limited powers – it exercises concurrent power with the national legislature in some areas, but it also has exclusive powers in other areas (section 44(1)(b) of the Constitution).

Areas of concurrent national and provincial competence include the administration of indigenous forests, the environment, regional planning and development, and urban and rural development (schedule 4 of the Constitution). The areas where the provincial government exercises exclusive legislative competence, and where the national legislature has no power to govern, include provincial planning, and provincial roads and traffic regulation (schedule 5 of the Constitution). A full list of the different functional areas is included at the end of this note.

When applying national and provincial legislation you have to ask, if an activity is permitted by national legislation can that activity then be restricted by provincial legislation or local by-laws? In the context of mining, if a person is permitted to mine in terms of the MPRDA, which is national legislation applicable throughout the entire Republic, can they then be prevented from mining if provincial legislation places additional requirements that must be met before starting with the mining activities?

A Conflict between Land Use and Zoning Restrictions, and the Right to Mine

The question whether local land use and zoning restrictions can restrict a person’s right to mine in terms of a mining permit was considered in 2012 by the South African Constitutional Court in the Maccsand case (CCT 103/11 [2012] ZACC 7).

Maccsand was granted two mining permits. One to mine the “Rocklands dunes” in a residential area zoned as public open space, and the second to mine the “Westridge dunes”, also in a residential area but situated on three erven zoned as public open space and rural areas. The City of Cape Town brought legal action against Maccsand to stop all mining activities on the dunes until the land was rezoned to allow for mining.

The legal action to stop the mining activities was brought because Maccsand had not complied with the provincial Land Use Planning Ordinance 15 of 1985 (LUPO), which prohibits the use of land for purposes that are not permitted in the zoning scheme or regulations. LUPO provides that if a person wants to undertake mining activities, these activities can only be undertaken if the land zoning scheme permits it or if a departure is granted.

It was argued in support of Maccsand that a right to mine can’t be limited by local land use and zoning restrictions because the regulation of mining fell in the national sphere of government. It was argued that the permit granted in terms of the national legislation authorising mining could not be limited by local land use and zoning restrictions because the limitation would be an intrusion by the local sphere of government into an area falling in the national sphere.

The court recognised that there is a natural overlap between land use and mining because mining will always take place on land, but stated that overlaps in the competencies of national and local government may be permitted. LUPO governs the use of all land in the Western Cape Province, which is a function of the local sphere of government in terms of the Constitution – it doesn’t regulate mining.

Because of the overlap of competencies between the MPRDA and LUPO, the granting of a mining right doesn’t automatically exclude the application of LUPO, and it doesn’t mean that the MPRDA trumps the provisions of LUPO – indeed the MPRDA itself states clearly that a mining right is subject to any other applicable law, such as LUPO (section 23(6) of the MPRDA).

The court found against Maccsand, holding that there is no conflict between the MPRDA and LUPO, and that it is permissible under the Constitution if mining can’t take place in terms of the MPRDA until the land is rezoned in terms of applicable land use and zoning restrictions.

The Need to Assess Restrictions According to the Operations Location and Time of Commencement

The Maccsand case dealt with a provincial ordinance enacted by the Provincial Counsel of the former Cape of Good Hope, but it illustrates an important legal principle applicable in all of South Africa’s provinces – the right to conduct mining activities in terms of the MPRDA can be restricted by provincial and local land use and zoning restrictions.

The different provinces in South Africa have different land use and zoning restrictions. This means that a mining right holder must look at the provincial legislation applicable in the province where operations are intended in order to determine if there are provincial restrictions restrict mining operations. If so, then it is necessary to determine what approvals are needed from the local authority before starting operations.

Over and above determining if there are land use and zoning restrictions, it is also necessary to determine what provincial legislation that was applicable at the time that operations commenced because the present legislation might not always be applicable.

This was illustrated in the Mtunzini Conservancy v Tronox KZN Sands (Pty) Ltd case (Mtunzini Conservancy v Tronox KZN Sands (Pty) Ltd and another [2013] 2 All SA 69 (KZD)). The facts of this case were strikingly similar to the Maccsand case, but the court distinguished the two cases and held that in the Mtunzini Conservancy case the current provincial legislation could not be used to prevent Tronox from continuing with its mining operations.

In 1988 Tronox was granted a single right to mine mineralised sand dunes over two discontinuous areas of land, referred to as the Hillendale and Fairbreeze properties. When the right was granted in terms of the old Minerals Act, No 50 of 1991, Tronox planned to mine the Hillendale property first and then later mine the Fairbreeze property. This was reflected in the company’s mining authorisations.

In 2012 when the company started to plan its mining activities on the Fairbreeze property the Mtunzini Conservancy objected, and brought legal action against Tronox to stop all mining activities on the dunes. The Mtunzini Conservancy relied directly on the Maccsand case and argued that Tronox couldn’t start with any construction activities on the Fairbreeze property until it was granted development approval in terms of the provincial KwaZulu-Natal Planning and Development Act No. 6 of 2008 (the PDA).

The court distinguished the Mtunzini Conservancy case from the Maccsand case based on when the mining operations started and the applicable provincial legislation that was applicable at the relevant time. When the company started with its mining operations in the Maccsand case, unauthorised mining was already prohibited by the provincial legislation (LUPO). This was not the case in the Mtunzini Conservancy case.

In the Mtunzini Conservancy case, when the company started its mining operations in 1988 there was no provincial legislation in place that restricted the intended operations without requiring additional provincial authorisations – the restriction that were being relied on by the Mtunzini Conservancy were only introduced after Tronox had already started its mining operations.

The court held that the application of PDA is not retrospective, and the law that was applicable when the right to mine was granted in 1988 continued to apply. When Tronox was granted the right to mine the Fairbreeze property in 1988 it had complied with all legislation and had been granted all of the necessary authorisations in terms of the then applicable legislation. The court accordingly held that the KwaZulu-Natal Planning and Development Act did not restrict mining operations that had commenced before the act became effective, and that the company’s right to mine the Fairbreeze property is not restricted by the provisions of the PDA which came into effect after the start of the mining operations.

An Approach When Considering Local Land Use and Zoning Restrictions

The following approach has been suggested when considering zoning restrictions:

  • is there a town planning scheme promulgated over the land;
  • if so, has the land been zoned for a particular use;
  • if so, does the zoning permit mining;
  • if not, does the town planning scheme have a general exemption for mining;
  • if not, does the town planning scheme make provision for existing land uses, and is the mining activities covered by these provisions;
  • if not, could it be argued that the town planning scheme legally invalid (Dale et al South African Mineral and Petroleum Law Issue 17 app-248).

If the outcome of this line of questioning shows that mining activities on the intended land are restricted, then the holder of a right will have to ensure that the land is rezoned to permit mining before any mining activities take place on the property.

Don’t Overlook Local Zoning Laws

Because provincial and local land use and zoning restrictions can prevent mining operations, it is important to consider these early in project planning process in order to ensure that prospecting and mining operations are not halted before they have even had the chance to start.


Provincial Legislation to Consider

I have included a list of provincial legislation that might become applicable below for the sake of completeness.

Eastern Cape

  • Land Use Planning Ordinance 15 of 1985 (of the former Cape Province);
  • Ciskei Land Use Regulation Act 15 of 1987.

Northern Cape

  • Northern Cape Town Planning and Development Act 7 of 1998;
  • Spatial Planning and Land Use Management Act 16 of 2013.

Western Cape

  • Land Use Planning Ordinance 1985 (Western Cape);
  • Western Cape Land Use Planning Act 3 of 2014.

Free State

  • Township Ordinance 9 of 1969 (as amended by the Township Ordinance Amendment Act 10 of 1998).

Gauteng

  • Gauteng Planning and Development Act 3 of 2003;
  • Town Planning and Townships Ordinance 15 of 1986 (Transvaal);
  • Division of Land Ordinance 20 of 1986;
  • Transvaal Board for the Development of Peri-Urban Areas Ordinance 20 of 1943.

KwaZulu Natal

  • KwaZulu-Natal Planning and Development Act 6 of 2008;
  • KwaZulu Land Affairs Act 11 of 1992;
  • KwaZulu Ingonyama Trust Act 3 of 1994;
  • KwaZulu Amakhosi and Iziphakonyiswa Act 9 of 1990.

Limpopo

  • Town Planning and Townships Ordinance 15 of 1986 (Transvaal);
  • Transvaal Board for the Development of Peri-Urban Areas Ordinance 20 of 1943;
  • Venda Proclomation 45 of 1990.

Mpumalanga

  • Town Planning and Townships Ordinance 15 of 1986 (Transvaal);
  • KwaNdebele Town Planning Act 10 of 1992.

North West

  • Town Planning and Townships Ordinance 15 of 1985 (Transvaal);
  • Town Planning and Townships Ordinance 15 of 1986 (Transvaal);
  • Transvaal Board for the Development of Peri-Urban Areas Ordinance 20 of 1943;
  • Bophuthatswana Land Control Act 39 of 1979

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