Protecting Ancestral Land from the Pursuit of Profit

In November 2018 the community of Umgungundlovu, which has called the Xolobeni area of the Eastern Cape in South Africa home since the early 1800’s, secured a critical legal victory to stop planned mining activities on its ancestral land.

Previously, it had been accepted that the landowners and communities only had to be consulted before a mining right is granted. The purpose was to inform them of the planned activities and the potential impacts. It wasn’t necessity to get their consent – the landowner and communities could object, but they couldn’t ultimately prevent the granting of a mining licence.Their only recourse was a claim for damages if there no agreement could be reached with the mining company.

Faced with the loss of access to their land and their way of life, the Umgungundlovu traditional community approached the court for an order declaring that a mining right can’t be granted over their ancestral land without their consent. They argued that the Interim Protection of Informal Land Rights Act (IPILRA) required the free and informed consent of traditional communities before they could be deprived of their land.

The mining company (Transworld Energy and Mineral Resources) disagreed. It relied on the Mineral and Petroleum Resources Development Act (MRPDA), which didn’t require “consent”, but only “consultation”. They argued that the MPRDA trumps the IPILRA, and that no person had a right to refuse their consent to mine.       

The South African High Court disagreed with the mining company, and held that a mining right couldn’t be granted over a community’s land unless the community had first granted their free and informed consent.

The court said that the question at the heart of the case was:

“Who gets to decide whether mining activities take place on this area – the community which has lived there for centuries,or the [mining company]?”

It was not disputed that the Umgungundlovu community was indeed a “community” and held informal rights to the land in terms of the IPILRA. What was in dispute was if the requirements of both the IPLRA and the MPRDA must be complied with in circumstances where land falls under the IPLRA.   

The court accepted that the IPLRA and MPRDA had different thresholds when it came to engaging with communities and landowners. The IPLRA needs “consent”, which equates to an agreement between the parties. In terms of international law consent needs to be “free, prior and informed”. The MPRDA, however, only needs “consultation”, which is only a process of consensus seeking. The aim of consultation isn’t to reach an agreement but only to involve the landowner and inform them of the possible interference with their property rights.

The court rejected the mining company’s argument that there was a conflict between the two acts. The IPLRA specifically regulates South African customary law, while the MPRDA regulates mining activities while being silent on customary law. The court applied the recent decision of the South African Constitutional Court in the Maledu case, where it was held that the MPRDA and the IPLRA weren’t conflicting and must be interpreted and read harmoniously.

The purpose of the IPLRA is to protect traditional communities’ informal rights to land which were not previously protected under racially discriminatory laws. It gives traditional communities greater protection than the protection enjoyed by common law landowners. The greater protection is justified because a traditional community’s way of life is intrinsically linked to their ancestral land:

“… the communal land and the residential plots (‘umzi’) of each imzi [household] forms an inextricable and integral part of this communities way of life. … a residential plot represents far more than merely a place to live: it is a symbol of social maturity and social dignity. Each residential plot further serves as a critical conduit for the preservation of relations of inter-linkage and mutual dependence between the living and the dead and is critically important for the well being of each imzi.


… the proposed mining activities … will not only bring about a physical displacement from their homes, but will lead to an economic displacement of the community and bring about a complete destruction of their cultural way of life.”

The court accordingly held that the Minister of Mineral Resources did not have the legal power to grant a mining right over a community’s land that is protected by the IPLRA, without the community’s prior consent.

This judgement was hailed by Amnesty International as “a clear message that multinational mining companies cannot trample over people’s rights in the pursuit of profit”, but quickly condemned by the Minister of Mineral Resources for impeding the government’s ability to grant mining rights to companies.

The minister has indicated the intention to appeal the decision, so this won’t be the end of the Umgungundlovu community’s legal battle.  

Citations:

  • Baleni and Others v the Minister of Mineral Resources and Others, Case No 73768/2016
  • Maledu and others v Itereleng Bakgatla Mineral Resources and Another [2018] SACC 41
  • Interim Protection of Informal Land Rights Act, No 31 of 1996 (IPILRA)
  • Mineral and Petroleum Resources Development Act, No 28 of 2002 (MRPDA)

Access Denied – No Mining Permitted Without Prior Consultation

In South Africa land ownership is separate from the right to mine minerals found in the land. The mining right holder is, however, given the right to enter land that it doesn’t own to conduct mining operations. This leads to a conflict of rights when a mining company wants enter land that is being productively used as farmland or private housing.

Historically, the rights of a mining right holder trump the landowner’s. If a landowner refused access, then the mining company could approach a court for an order forcing the landowner to give the company access. Any compensation payable to the landowner for the loss of the use of the property could be determined at a later date. A recent decision by the South African Constitutional Court has, however, shifted the balance of power from the mining company back towards the landowner. Even though this case dealt with the rights of a traditional community, the principles apply to all owners and lawful occupiers of land going forward.

In 2008 a mining company was granted a mining right. The company then concluded a lease agreement with the Bakgatla-Ba-Kgafela Tribal Authority to access the property. After the company started mining, 38 community members objected to the operations primarily on the argument that, (i) they were the true owners of the land, not the tribal authority;and (ii) the mining company had not consulted with them as the landowners before the mining right was granted.

In response the company alleged that they had properly consulted with the tribal authority. The company approached the High Court and was granted a court order (i) evicting the community members from the land; and(ii) preventing them from entering, or conducting farming operations, the land. In its reasoning the High Court applied a previous Supreme Court of Appeal decision(the Maranda case). It held that the mining company had attempted in good faith to comply with its consultative duties and were therefore free to start with their mining activities – if there was any compensation that was due to the community members, then the community members could claim compensation in terms of the “section 54 dispute process”in the Mineral and Petroleum Resources Development Act (MPRDA). It held that mining company didn’t have to follow or exhaust the section 54 dispute process before it could access to the property.

The Constitutional Court disagreed, based on two questions. First, were the 38 community members either owners or lawful occupiers of the property, and entitled to invoke the section 54 dispute process?If so, could the mining company get a court interdict to enforce its right to access the property before it exhausted the section 54 dispute process?

The court found that the community members had an “informal right to land” in terms of the Interim Protection of Informal Land Rights Act (IPILRA). This had not been extinguished when the mining company entered into the lease agreement with the Tribal Authority because the requirements of IPILRA were not followed. The community members were therefore lawful occupiers for the purposes of the section 54 dispute process.

The court then found that the mining company couldn’t enforce its right to access the property before it exhausted the section 54 dispute process. This was to ensure the “balancing of the rights of mining right holders on one hand and those of the surface rights holders on the other. The eviction order was set aside.

The principles of this case apply to all lawful owners and lawful occupiers of land going forward. Practically, a mining company won’t be able to access property and commence with operations unless (i)the commencement of mining operations has been permitted by regional manager,or (ii) the compensation that is payable to the landowners or lawful occupiers has been mutually agreed, or determined by a competent court.

The MPRDA section 54 dispute process

The section 54 dispute process is available if the owner or lawful occupier of a property (i) refuses access; (ii) places unreasonable demands for access; or (iii) can’t be located.

The Department of Mineral Resources’ regional manager must be notified, and the owner or lawful occupier may make representations. After considering the representations the regional manager has two options.

In extreme circumstances the matter may be referred for the government to expropriate the land.

Otherwise, the parties must agree the compensation payable to the owner or lawful occupier for the damage suffered. If an agreement can’t be reached, the compensation payable will be determined by either arbitration or by a court.

If failure to reach an agreement is because of the actions of the mining right holder, then the Regional Manager may prohibit the commencement of operations until the dispute is resolved.

Were the community members entitled to the section 54 dispute process?

Only owners or lawful occupiers are entitled to the section 54 dispute process.

The community members alleged that they were the owners of the property because their ancestors had bought it in 1919. The property was, however, registered as being held in trust on behalf of the Tribal Authority because the past apartheid laws prevented the property from being registered in their names as joint owners. The community members had instituted a separate claim in terms of the Land Titles Adjustment Act to rectify this on the property’s title deed.

The court, however, found that it wasn’t necessary to decide ownership because the community members were lawful occupiers in terms of the Interim Protection of Informal Land Rights Act. The company’s mining right did not mean that the community’s lawful occupation of the property was now unlawful.

The court then investigated if the company’s lease agreement with the Tribal Authority stripped the community members of their informal land rights but found that the provisions of IPILRA hadn’t been complied with in order to deprive the community of their rights.

The community therefore remained lawful occupiers, and were entitled to the section 54 dispute process.

Must the section 54 dispute process be exhausted?

The mining company sent a notice invoking the section 54 dispute process, but this was never followed up. The company argued that it wasn’t necessary to exhaust the section 54 dispute process, and that this position was supported by the Supreme Court of Appeal’s earlier decision in the Maranda case.

The Constitutional Court, however, emphasised two differences between the current case and the Maranda case. First, in the Maranda case the landowner refused all approaches by the mining right holder and the regional manager. It was clearly the landowner’s objective to frustrate the objectives of the MPRDA through an unreasonable refusal.

More importantly, the Constitutional Court highlighted that the MPRDA had been amended, and the section providing for further consultation between the landowner and mining right holder for access was repealed (section 5(4)(c)). It was now imperative that the section 54 dispute mechanism is followed to balance the competing rights between an owner or lawful occupier on one hand and the mining right holder on the other.

In the future mining companies must consult

The Constitutional Court has made it clear that a mining company must engage with owners and lawful occupiers of property to agree terms of access. If there is a dispute on the terms, then the section 54 dispute process in the governing MPRDA must be followed.

However, I don’t believe that the court’s decision means a mining company may never be granted access commence operations without first agreeing terms. The section 54 dispute process provides that if there is no agreement on compensation because of the actions of the mining right holder,then the Regional Manager may prohibit the commencement of operations until the disputes resolution. By implication this means that if the mining company is not at fault, then they may be granted access pending the disputes resolution.

The mining company must, however, consult. Consultation means meaningful consultation according to the principles outlined by the constitutional court in various judgements.

Without an attempt at meaningful consultation,access should be denied.         

Citations

  • Maledu and others v Itereleng Bakgatla Mineral Resources and Another [2018] SACC 41;
  • Joubert v Maranda Mining Company (Pty) Ltd [2009] ZASCA 68;2010 (1) SA 198 (SCA);
  • Interim Protection of Informal Land Rights Act,No 31 of 1996 (IPILRA);
  • Land Titles Adjustment Act, No 111 of 1993; Mineral and Petroleum Resources Development Act, No 28 of 2002 (MPRDA).

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.

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.

Froneman J

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.

Protecting Important Land Areas

In 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.

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.

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