The Right to Sue, or be Sued, after Death

On the 13th May 2016 the High Court of South Africa (Gauteng Local Division) handed down its judgement in the class action certification case of Nkala and Others v Harmony Gold Mining Company Limited and Others.

This case certified the classes that will participate in the class action law suit that will be brought against thirty two different mining companies.

In the intended class action the applicant representatives want to institute action on behalf of all current and former underground mine workers who have contracted silicosis or pulmonary tuberculosis (TB), and on behalf of the dependents of these mineworkers who have died of these diseases, after 12 March 1965 (paragraph 40). The court was told that the number of potential class members could be between 17,000 and 500,000 people (paragraph 7).

The claim is based on the mining companies’ alleged breach of duties that they owed to their employees (paragraph 58). These alleged duties include the common law duty to provide a safe and healthy work environment, the duty to comply with the Mine Works Act No 12 of 1911 and the Mine Health and Safety Act No 29 of 1996, and the breach of certain constitutional obligations and rights (paragraph 58).

The court’s judgement will allow the class action to proceed, provided that the judgment is not successfully appealed.

The potential effect of this judgment does, however, extend beyond class action suits and has the potential to impact other cases where damages are claimed in the future. This is because the court’s decision develops the South African common law on the transmissibility of claims for non-patrimonial (general) damages.

The courts development of the common law on the transmissibility of claims for non-patrimonial (general) damages

In its judgment the court took the opportunity to develop the South African common law that regulates the transmissibility of claims for non-patrimonial (general) damages. In other words, the court developed the right that the estate of a deceased person has to sue, or be sued, for non-patrimonial (general) damages after the death of the person who suffered or caused them.

This relevant paragraph of the court’s decision outlining the common law development is:

In conclusion, we hold that the common law should be developed as follows:

A plaintiff who had commenced suing for general damages but who has died whether arising from harm caused by a wrongful act or omission of a person or otherwise, and whose claim has yet to reach the stage of litis contestatio, and who would but for his/her death be entitled to maintain the action and recover the general damages in respect thereof, will be entitled to continue with such action notwithstanding his/her death; and

The person who would have been liable for the general damages if the death of a plaintiff had not ensued remains liable for the said general damages notwithstanding the death of the plaintiff so harmed;

Such action shall be for the benefit of the estate of the person whose death had been so caused;

A defendant who dies while an action against him has commenced for general damages arising from harm caused by his wrongful act or omission and whose case has yet to reach the stage of litis contestatio remains liable for the said general damages notwithstanding his death, and the estate of the defendant shall continue to bear the liability despite the death of the defendant.

Paragraph 220.

But what is the practical effect of this finding? To understand this, it is necessary to look at the distinction in that is drawn between patrimonial and non-patrimonial (general) damages in South African law.

The distinction between patrimonial and non-patrimonial losses

A patrimonial loss is a loss that causes a reduction in the value of a person’s estate, often through the decrease in the value of an asset that is owned (Visser and Potgieter Damages Second Edition 45). One method that can be used to determine the size of a patrimonial loss is by comparing the current value of a person’s estate after a damage causing event, with the value of the person’s estate before the event. The difference in these values would be the patrimonial loss that was suffered.

An example of a patrimonial loss is the damage suffered when a motor car is involved in an accident. The size of this loss can generally be determined based on a comparison of the value of the car before and after the accident.

Non-patrimonial (general) damages on the other hand don’t necessarily directly impact the value of a person’s estate. Non-patrimonial loss includes claims for money that results from:

  • infringement of a person’s physical or mental interests, such as
    • physical and mental pain and suffering;
    • shock;
    • disfigurement;
    • loss of amenities of life; and
    • shortened life expectancy;
  • defamation; and
  • infringement of a person’s dignity (Visser and Potgieter 99 – 115).

Non-patrimonial losses are losses that are suffered that are highly personal in nature, and aren’t as easily quantifiable as patrimonial losses.

The two types of damages aren’t, however, mutually exclusive, and both types of damages can arise from the same action. For example, if a person is physically assaulted they might have to pay for medical attention (a patrimonial loss), but they might also suffer pain and suffering (a non-patrimonial loss). The person who was assaulted would be able to claim compensation for both of these losses that arose from the same action.

The previous common law legal position on the transmissibility of claims

Previously the common law only allowed claims for patrimonial losses to be transmitted. This means that if a patrimonial loss is suffered by a person who later dies, that deceased person’s estate may institute action to recover the patrimonial damages.

The common law did not, however, generally allow the estate of a deceased person to sue a wrongdoer for non-patrimonial losses that was suffered by the deceased. The exception to this rule is that if the deceased had already commenced the required legal action, and if the legal action had reached a stage referred to as “litis contestatio” before death, then the claim is transmitted to the deceased persons estate and it can be pursued (paragraphs 187 to 188).

In a court case the stage of litis contestatio is usually reached when the court pleadings have closed, namely once the issues in dispute have been identified by the parties through the exchange of the required court documents.

The court stated that due to the various court procedures the time between commencing the legal action and the legal action reaching the stage of litis contestatio can be long. If the person commencing the claim for non-patrimonial (general) damages dies during this period, then the claim falls away on death and his estate can’t continue with the legal action. However, if the stage of litis contestatio is reached before death then the deceased person’s estate will be able to proceed with the claim and claim the non-patrimonial (general) damages.

The court considered various foreign legal positions, and held that the South African common law had failed to keep up pace with the procedural development in the law.

The court accordingly decided to develop and alter the South African common law as it applies to the transmissibility of claims for non-patrimonial (general) damages, altering the law to make it so that a claim for non-patrimonial (general) damages it transmissible to a deceased person’s estate provided that the deceased person had merely commenced with the legal action. The court therefore removed the requirement that the court proceedings must have reached a stage of “litis contestatio“.

The practical effect of this development of the common law

The practical effect of this judgement is that claims for non-patrimonial (general) damages are now transmissible once legal action has been commenced.

This means that the estate of a deceased person can now continue with a claim non-patrimonial (general) damages that was suffered by the deceased, provided that the legal action has been instituted before death.

If a claimant dies after instituting legal action but before the issues in dispute have been fully identified by the parties through the exchange of the required court documents, otherwise known as the close of pleadings or litis contestatio, the claim is no longer extinguished and the claimants estate may proceed to recover both the patrimonial and non-patrimonial (general) damages that was suffered.

Note, however, that the parties have stated their intention to appeal the High Court’s judgment, so this might not be the final position on the transmissibility of claims.

A Judicial Opinion on the National Forests Act

The recent high court decision on an application to remove ten milkwood trees from a property in the case of Nanaga Property Trust v Director-General of the Department of Agriculture, Forestry and Fisheries and others ((4689/2014) [2016] ZAECGHC 18 (16 February 2016)), is legally unremarkable yet at the same time highly informative.

The case is unremarkable in the way that court applied the principles of the Promotion of Administrative Justice Act No 3 of 2000 (PAJA) when setting aside a decision taken by the Department of Agriculture, Forestry and Fisheries (DAFF) to refuse an application to remove trees because the decision maker lacked the required authority.

The court, however, went a bit further in its judgement, and Hartle J took the opportunity to express an opinion on how the National Forests Act, No 84 of 1998 (National Forests Act) should be interpreted and applied in the future by DAFF. This was only an opinion (an obiter dictum) and is not binding on the department or on any court in the future, but the opinion could still be useful when assessing similar situations that could arise in the future.

The facts

The Nanaga Property Trust (trust) owned property at Kempton on Sea that was zoned for single residential use. The trust wanted to develop the property further and extend the modest residence that was situated on the property.

The trust submitted building plans to the local municipality, which approved the plans subject to the trust complying with the applicable provisions of the National Forests Act, expressed as follows:

[P]lease note, the National Forests Act (NFA) / Environmental Conservation Act (ECA) applies – it is up to each property owner to ensure that they familiarise themselves and comply with the provisions of the act prior to the clearing of any indigenous vegetation / tress (milkwoods etc.) The necessary permits can be obtained by filing in an application form at our Department … “.

The trust, assisted by its architect, contacted DAFF and was assisted by Ms Layini, a forester, who sent them what was believed to be the correct application form. The application form that was submitted by the trust was, however, incorrect because it was an application for a licence involving trees in a natural forest in terms of section 7 of the National Forests Act, and not the required application for a licence involving protected trees in terms of section 15.

A site inspection of the property was conducted by DAFF, and afterwards the application was refused. The refusal was conveyed through a letter received from Ms Layini. The reason given for the refusal was that:

… [e]xtending the building in any manner that will destroy natural forest cannot be allowed. … Section 3(3) of the National Forest Act states that natural forests must not be destroyed saved (sic) in exceptional circumstances, where, in the opinion of the Minister, a new land use is preferable in terms of its economic, social and environmental benefits. … [E]xceptional circumstances referred to in Section 3 are limited to development of national and provincial strategic importance, which excludes residential development”.

Paragraph 13.

Eight months after the trust addressed a letter of complaint to Ms Layini at DAFF asking for the full record of her decision, the trust launched an application in terms of section 6 of PAJA to review and set aside DAFF’s decision to refuse the application.

The Court’s Decision to Set Aside the Department’s Refusal to Grant a Licence

The National Forests Act gives the minister the power to grant the licences needed in terms of section 7 or section 15 (section 7(1)(b)(i) and 15(1)(b)(i) respectively), but the act also gives the minister wide powers to delegate this power to a named official in the department, the holder of an office in the department, an organ of state, or any person who or which is not an organ of state (section 48(1)).

The questions that the court had to determine were:

  • who made the decision; and
  • was the person who made the decision, whether premised on section 7 or 15 of the National Forests Act, authorised to make the decision by the act itself or any applicable delegation.

DAFF’s answering affidavit in the case was deposed to by Ms Dzivhani, the Deputy Director General for Forestry Regulation and Oversight. Ms Dzivhani did not, however, clarify which official with the delegated authority was expected to consider the trusts application for a licence (paragraph 35 and 38). Later during the proceedings it was alleged that the decision on the trusts application was taken by Ms Sqwabe, the Deputy Director: Forestry Regulation and Support at the regional office (paragraph 30).

The court stated that it was a question of fact whether the decision to refuse the trusts application for a licence was taken by Ms Layini who was the forester that the trust was corresponding with and who had sent the rejection letter, or Ms Sqwabe who was a Deputy Director at the regional office (paragraph 30).

It was alleged by DAFF that the decision was taken by Ms Sqwabe who then instructed Ms Layini to convey the decision, and that Ms Layini was merely acted as a conduit for communication with the trust (paragraph 30 and 44)

The court looked at the facts surrounding the decision that was taken, including that:

  • Ms Sqwabe was only identified as the decision maker once the authority of Ms Layini, the forester, was challenged (paragraph 45 and 49);
  • Ms Sqwabe did not state what day she made her decision (paragraph 46);
  • Ms Sqwabe did not visit the property and did not explain how she could have reached the decision (paragraph 47); and
  • Ms Sqwabe did not state what input she received when making her decision, and what documentation or submissions she relied on (paragraph 47).

When considering the allegations the court found that the decision not to grant the licence application was, in fact, made by Ms Layini (paragraph 49 and 51).

The next question to be determined by the court was whether Ms Layini, the decision maker, was authorised to make the decision to grant or refuse the trusts application.

By considering the act and the written delegations of the minister’s powers, the court found that Ms Layini, a forester, was not authorised in terms of the National Forest Act or any applicable delegation to make the decision (paragraph 51). This lack of authority was also conceded by DAFF during the proceedings (paragraph 30).

It was this lack of authority by Ms Layini that lead to the court deciding to set aside DAFF’s decision to refuse the trusts application for a licence to remove the ten milkwood trees.

When setting aside DAFF’s decision the court declined to substitute its own decision for that of DAFF, leaving it up to the trust to submit a new application, and for DAFF to consider this new application afresh.

The court’s opinion on the proper application of the National Forests Act

After setting aside DAFF’s decision the court expressed an opinion on some of the other arguments that the parties presented in the hope of avoiding litigation between the parties in the future (paragraph 53).

The trust had alleged that its application to remove the ten milkwood trees was misconstrued by DAFF, and that is application was:

  • treated as a request for permission for destruction of a forest (paragraph 73);
  • equated to an application for the change of land use (paragraph 74); and
  • viewed as an application for permission to build (paragraph 75).

When rejecting the trusts application DAFF relied on section 3(3) of the National Forests Act, stating that “natural forests must not be destroyed saved (sic) in exceptional circumstances … which excludes residential development” (paragraph 13).

The court, however, held that the application was not an application for either the destruction of a forest, the change of land use or for permission to build (paragraph 73, 74 and 75), but that all DAFF had to decide was whether it was permissible for the trust to remove the trees when taking into account the acts founding principles (paragraph 76).

The court highlighted that the National Forest Act does not have an absolute prohibition of the removal of trees, and the removal of trees in a forest is permitted in terms of the act (paragraph 83).

The court stated that because DAFF misconstrued the application as the trust alleged, it failed to apply the founding principles in a balanced way (paragraph 81 and 83).

The court then went on to consider what the position would have been if the trusts application would have resulted in the destruction of a forest. The court stated that even in this situation the minister would still have to consider the application, considering whether the change is preferable in terms of its economic, social and environmental benefits as required in terms of section 3(3) of the National Forests Act (paragraph 84).

The court stated that the principles laid out by the Constitutional Court in the decision of Fuel Retailers Association of South Africa v General-Director Environmental Management, Department of Agriculture, Conservation and Environment, Mpumalanga Province and others (2007 (6) SA 4 (CC)) would be applicable when DAFF considers an application that falls in the ambit of section 3 of the National Forests Act (paragraph 84). This includes the principle that:

  • “sustainable development” does not mean the end of socio-economic development, but only regulates the methods used when development takes place;
  • people and their needs must be placed at the forefront of environmental management;
  • that the social, economic and environmental impact of a development must be considered, assessed and evaluated, and a decision must be in light of this assessment and consideration; and
  • a decision must take into account the interests, needs and values of all interested and affected parties (paragraph 86).

By considering the provisions of section 3 of the National Forest Act against the principles laid out by the Constitutional Court, the court laid out 11 factors that may be relevant for DAFF to apply when considering an application that falls under section 3:

  • the nature and degree of vulnerability of the forest type;
  • the forests purpose and place in the grand scheme of things, namely does the forest serve an important function or provide an important habitat that contributes to biodiversity;
  • the constitutional imperative to protect the environment generally;
  • the objects of the National Forest Act as they are relevant to the particular forest and set of facts being considered;
  • the fact that the National Forest Act does make provision for permits to be granted to remove protected trees;
  • the vested development rights that the land owner has in its property;
  • the fact that the plans for the extension of the property was validly approved by the municipality;
  • the actual and projected effect of the removal of the trees;
  • the owners right not be deprived of the use of his property;
  • the social, economic and environmental impact if the permit is granted; and
  • the social, economic and environmental impact if the permit is refused (paragraph 87).

The court stated that from the court papers filed by DAFF it was apparent that there was no consideration, assessment or evaluation of the social, economic and environmental impact of the particular application.

The final decision of the court to set aside the refusal of DAFF to grant the trusts application did not hinge on the departments failure to consider the application properly. From the court’s judgement it is, however, clear that Hartle J held the opinion that each application must be considered, assessed and evaluated against the applicable constitutional principles, and the failure to do so could be fatal to a decision taken by DAFF.

A Primer – Financial Provisions for Environmental Rehabilitation

On 20 November 2015 the Financial Provisioning Regulations 2015 was published and became effective (GN R1147 in GG 39425 of 20 November 2015).

The regulations intend to regulate the financial provisions that holders of rights and permits must give in terms of the National Environmental Management Act, No 107 of 1998 (NEMA) for the cost associated with the management, rehabilitation and remediation of environmental impacts that result from prospecting, exploration, mining or production operations that are undertaken in South Africa (regulation 2 and 3).

This note highlights some of the regulations that holders of rights and permits should be aware of. A note setting out the transitional arrangements for financial provisions can be found here.

The requirement to provide a financial provision

Before conducting any prospecting or mining for minerals, or exploration or production of petroleum resources, a person must be grant granted an environmental authorisation in terms of NEMA (section 5A(a) of the Mineral and Petroleum Resources Development Act, No 28 of 2002 (MPRDA).

One requirement of being granted the environmental authorisation is that the applicant must provide the prescribed financial provision (section 24P(1) of NEMA). This financial provision is intended to cater for the rehabilitation, closure and on-going post decommissioning management of negative environmental impacts that may arise from the operations.

No prospecting or mining for minerals, or exploration or production of petroleum resources can take place unless the financial provision is in place and an environmental authorisation has been granted.

Methods that can be used to provide the financial provision

There are three financial vehicles that can be used to give the necessary financial provision. These vehicles can be used individually or as a combination. They are (regulation 8(1)):

  • financial guarantee issued by a registered bank, insurer or underwriter;
  • cash that must be deposited into an account administered by the Minister of Mineral Resources (“Minister“); or
  • a contribution to a trust fund established specifically for this purpose, provided that:
    • the trust fund can’t be used for annual rehabilitation, or for the final rehabilitation, decommissioning and closure at the end of life of the operations (regulation 8(1)(c)(i)); and
    • the trust is established in terms of a trust deed that complies with the prescribed format (regulation 8(7)).

Quantum of the financial provision

The financial provision must be equal to the actual costs for implementing the following plans and reports for a period of at least 10 years (regulation 7):

  • rehabilitation and remediation, as reflected in the “annual rehabilitation plan” (regulation 5(a) and 6(a));
  • decommissioning and closure at the end of life of the operations, as reflected in the “final rehabilitation, decommissioning and mine closure plan” (regulation 5(b) and 6(b)); and
  • remediation of latent and residual environmental impacts, including the pumping and treatment of polluted or extraneous water, as reflected in the “environmental risk assessment report” (regulation 5(c) and 6(c)).

These plans and reports are prescribed in the regulations (appendix 3, 4 and 5), so care must be taken to make sure that the plans and reports are compliant, and that they contain the prescribed minimum information (regulation 12(1), (2), and (3)).

The quantum must be determined by a specialist (regulation 9(1)), and in the determination the liability can’t be deferred against any assets at mine closure, or mine infrastructure salvage value (regulation 9(2)).

If the Minister is not satisfied with the determination, the Minister may request that the determination or assessment be:

  • adjusted to a satisfactory amount;
  • reviewed externally by another specialist; or
  • confirmed by an independent assessor (regulation 14(2)(c)).

The holder of the right or permit is responsible for all costs related to the determination or assessment of the financial provision (regulation 14(3)).

Compulsory annual review and adjustment

An annual review of the adequacy of the financial provision must be done (regulation 11(2)), and must be submitted within 3 months of the end of the company’s financial year (regulation 11(3)(c)(ii)). This period can be extended by a maximum of 3 months if an application for extension, with reasons, is submitted to the Minister (regulation 12(7) and (8)).

The results of the assessment must:

  • be audited and signed by an independent auditor;
  • be included in the “environmental audit report” prepared according to the Environmental Impact Assessment Regulations 2014;
  • be signed off by the chief executive officer, or person appointed in a similar position, and
  • be submitted to the Minister (regulation 11(3) and 13(3)).

The independent auditor’s declaration must reconcile the financial provision with the estimates of rehabilitation exposure and liabilities (regulation 12(5)), and must include any contingent liabilities and restricted cash that may be associated with the financial provision liability (regulation 12(6)).

If there is a shortfall in the quantum of the financial provision, the financial provision must be increased within 90 days from the signature of the auditor’s report (regulation 11(4)(a)).

Any excess in the quantum of the financial provision can only be deferred against future assessments (regulation 11(4)(b)).

The public’s right of access to information

The holder of a right or permit must make its environmental management programme available to the public (regulation 13(1)).

The environmental management programme must:

  • be published on the holders public website, if the holder has one;
  • be available at the site office of the operations; and
  • be accessible to the public on request.

Placing operations under care and maintenance

A holder of a right or permit must lodge an application with the Minister if they want to place their operations under care and maintenance (regulation 16(1)). No operation may be placed under care and maintenance without the Ministers approval (regulation 16(6)).

The application to place operations under care and maintenance must include:

  • an explanation of the merits of placing the operation under care and maintenance; and
  • a “care and maintenance plan“, that contains the minimum prescribed information (regulation 16(2) and appendix 6).

Permission to place an operation under care and maintenance can be granted for a maximum of 5 years, with or without conditions, and at the end of this period the approval will be reviewed by the Minister (regulation 16(4)).

The care and maintenance plan must be audited and updated annually (regulation 16(5)(b)).

The withdrawal of the financial guarantee by financial institutions

If a financial institution wants to withdraw the guarantee that it has provided for the financial provision:

  • the financial institution must give the Minister at least four months written notice of its intention by registered mail (regulation 8(3)(a)); and
  • the Minister must then give the holder of the right or permit 60 days to provide an alternate arrangement for the required financial provision (regulation 8(4)).

If the holder of the right or permit can’t provide an alternate arrangement within the 60 day period, the Minister must call on the financial guarantee. This money is then held by the Minister until an alternate arrangement can be provided for the financial provision (regulation 8(5)).

If the holder of the right or permit does provide an alternate arrangement then the Minister must release the first guarantee within 7 days of receiving the alternate financial provision.

A Primer – Mineral And Petroleum Resources Royalty Act

The Mineral And Petroleum Resources Royalty Act, No 28 of 2008 (MPRRA) imposes compulsory royalty payments that must be paid by any person who transfers a mineral resource that was extracted in South Africa (section 2). The royalty is paid to the South African Government (section 2).

The registration of persons that must make royalty payments, and the administration of the royalty payments, are regulated in accordance with the separate Mineral And Petroleum Resources Royalty (Administration) Act, No 28 of 2008 (MPRRAA).

Imposition of royalty charges

A royalty is imposed on an extractor when:

  • there is a transfer;
  • of a mineral resource;
  • that was extracted within South Africa (section 2).

The point where the royalty is imposed is on the “transfer”, not the extraction, of the mineral resource (section 2). “Transfer” is defined as the first instance that the mineral resource is disposed of, consumed, stolen, destroyed, or lost (section 1).

This definition ensures that a royalty is imposed only once on the first transfer, even in cases where there are a series of transfers after the minerals extraction.

Royalty rate

There are two different royalty rates that may be applied, one applicable to refined mineral resources, and the other applicable to unrefined mineral resources (section 3). The two rates are:

  • refined mineral resources:
    • 0.5 + [earnings before interest and taxes / (gross sales in respect of refined mineral resources X 12.5)] X 100;
    • maximum rate of 5% (section 4(1) as read with section 4(3)(a)).
  • unrefined mineral resources:
    • 0.5 + [earnings before interest and taxes / (gross sales in respect of unrefined mineral resources X 9)] X 100;
    • maximum rate of 7% (section 4(2) as read with section 4(3)(b)).

The MPRRA sets out specific formulas that must be used when calculating earnings before interest and taxes (“EBIT”) and gross sales (section 5 and 6 respectively). These formulas excludes the inclusion of certain expenditures, and may result in different results being reached compared to the use of the traditional accounting formulas.

The MPRRA also includes provisions that may exempt certain extractors, or provide relief under certain circumstances.

Exemption for small business

The MPRRA exempts small business extractors from royalties if they comply with various requirements (section 7).

An extractor is exempted from royalties if:

  • the gross sales of the extractor is R10 million or less;
  • the royalty that would be imposed for that year is R100,000 or less; and
  • the extractor is a resident of South Africa for income tax purposes (section 7(1)(a) to (c)).

This exemption does not apply if:

  • the extractor holds more than a 50% interest in another extractor;
  • any other extractor holds a right to participate in more than 50% of the profits of the extractor;
  • any person holds the right to participate in more than 50 per cent of the profits of the extractor and any other extractor; or
  • the extractor is an unincorporated body of persons (section 7(2)(a) to (d) as read with section 4 of the MPRRAA).

Exemption for sampling activities

An extractor is exempt from paying royalties on samples won in the course of prospecting or exploration operations for the purposes of testing, identification, analysis, and sampling, provided that the gross sales of those mineral resources doesn’t exceed R100,000 (section 8).

Rollover relief for transfers between extractors

When mineral resources are transferred from one extractor to another, the transfer will be exempt from royalties if:

  • both extractors are registered to pay royalties in terms of the MPRRAA; and
  • both extractors agree in writing that the rollover relief will be applied (section 8A).

Rollover relief for disposals involving going concerns

When there is a transfer of a mineral resource between two extractors as part of a disposal of a business as a going concern is not regarded as a transfer for purposes of payment of royalties.

A Primer – National Water Act

The National Water Act, No 36 of 1998 (NWA) was enacted to ensure that water resources are protected and conserved in a sustainable and equitable manner (sections 2 and 3). The entitlement to use water is regulated by requiring a user to acquire a water use licence before commencing with various activities.

Definition of “water use”

“Water use” is defined broadly in the NWA, and includes:

  • taking water from a water resource;
  • storing water;
  • impeding or diverting the flow of water in a watercourse;
  • discharging of waste water into a water resource;
  • altering the bed, banks, course or characteristics of a watercourse; and
  • removing or disposing of water found underground (section 21).

Requirement for a water use licence

A water use licence is required is for any water use unless the water use:

  • falls in the list of permissible uses that are set out in schedule 1;
  • is permitted in terms of a general authorisation that are published by notice in the government gazette; or
  • was a continuation of an existing lawful use prior to the commencement of the NWA (section 22).

A person is not automatically entitled to use water for prospecting, mining, exploration or production solely because a right has been granted for the activity in terms of the Mineral and Petroleum Resources Development Act, No 28 of 2002 (MPRDA) (section 5(3)(d)). The use of water for these activities are still regulated by the Water Act and a separate water use licence is needed if the water use falls outside of the scope of the general authorisations under the NWA.

The general authorisations issued in terms of the NWA allows prospecting, mining, and quarrying companies, and other “small industrial users”, to use and store certain quantities of groundwater and surface water without needing a water licence (item 1.7 of GN 399 in GG 26187 of 26 March 2004).

The specific quantities are allowed, are however, dependant on the drainage regions where the activities will take place, and are subject to the water use not being excessive or detrimental to other water users.

Even if the water use falls within the authorisation and a water licence is not required, a water user may still be required to register as a water user.

Before commencing with any activities that may need water, it is necessary for a person to determine if the use of water is regulated by the NWA, and if so:

  • are the activities exempted from requiring a water licence because the quantities fall within the thresholds set out in the general authorisations;
  • is registration as a water user required even though a separate water use licence is not needed?

A Primer – National Environmental Management Waste Act

The National Environmental Management: Waste Act, No 59 of 2008 (the “Waste Act“) is a complimentary act to the National Environmental Management Act, No 107 of 1998 (NEMA). It aims to regulate waste management in order to protect health and the environment through the minimisation of the consumption of natural resources and generation of waste, ensuring the treating and safe disposal of waste, and the prevention of pollution and ecological degradation (section 2(a)).

The act sets certain standards and requirements that are applicable to all waste. The act also lists certain waste management activities cannot be conducted by any person unless the activity is conducted in accordance with the prescribed standards and a waste management licence is issued if required for the activity (section 20). To determine whether a waste management licence is needed the following questions must be answered.

Definition of “waste”

Is the substance a “waste” regulated in terms of the act?

Waste is defined very broadly in the act, and includes:

  • any substance or material that is unwanted, discarded or abandoned or is intended to be discarded or disposed of;
  • all substances listed in schedule 3 of the act; and
  • any other substance the minister identifies as waste by notice published in the government gazette (section 1).

Listed activities in terms of the Waste Act

If the substance is waste, is the intended activity listed as an activity that requires a waste management licence? The listed activities are, again, listed broadly and include a wide range of activities such as storage, recycling, treatment and disposal of waste, and the construction of facilities to accomplish these activities (GN 921 in GG 37083 of 29 November 2013).

The requirement to get a licence before conducting these activities may depend on the place where the activity is conducted and the volumes that are involved (GN 921).

For the mineral and petroleum industry the regulation of residue stockpiles and residue deposits as waste is particularly significant. These activities were previously excluded from regulation under the Waste Act (repealed section 4(b)). The act was, however, amended in 2014 as part of the effort to create a single environmental management system to regulate environmental management in South Africa. Residue stockpiles and residue deposits, defined to include all waste resulting from exploration, mining, quarrying, and physical and chemical treatment of minerals, are now a listed waste for the purposes of the Waste Act (sections 1 and schedule 3).

Depending on the activities that are conducted by mineral and petroleum companies, a waste management licence may have to be obtained in respect of stockpiles and deposits. This is in addition to the general requirement that all stockpiles and deposits must be managed in the manner prescribed by the act and deposited on a site designated for that purpose in the applicable environmental management plan or programme (the EMP) (sections 24S of NEMA, and sections 1 and 43A of the Waste Act).

A Primer – National Environmental Management Biodiversity Act

The National Environmental Management: Biodiversity Act, No 10 of 2004 (NEMBA) is a complimentary act to the National Environmental Management Act, No 107 of 1998 (NEMA). NEMBA aims to provide for the management and conservation of South Africa’s biodiversity within the framework of NEMA. These objectives are promoted by giving protections to ecosystems and species that are threatened or in need of protection (section 51).

Numerous species of flora and fauna have also been identified as a threatened or protected species, and two hundred and twenty five threatened ecosystems have already been identified in terms of NEMBA (sections 52, 56 and GN 1002 in GG 34809 of 9 December 2011).

NEMBA restrictions

A permit must be acquired before conducting any “restricted activities” involving any protected species of flora or fauna (section 57(1)). These restricted activities include:

  • cutting, chopping off, uprooting, damaging or destroying any specimen; and
  • conveying, moving or trans-locating any specimen (section 1).

NEMBA doesn’t have any exemptions for the mineral and petroleum industry, and may have an impact on planned prospecting, mining, exploration or production activities.

A Primer – National Environmental Management Protected Areas Act

The National Environmental Management: Protected Areas Act, No 57 of 2003 (NEMPAA) is a complimentary act to the National Environmental Management Act, No 107 of 1998 (NEMA). NEMPAA aims to provide for the protection and conservation of ecologically viable areas that are representative of South Africa’s biological diversity. This objective is accomplished through the declaration and management of protected these identified areas (section 2).

The restrictions on the development of protected areas in NEMPAA are in addition to any restrictions placed on prospecting or mining of minerals, or exploration or production of petroleum resources, in terms of the Mineral and Petroleum Resources Development Act, No 28 of 2002 (MPRDA). In the event of any conflicts between these two acts, the provisions of NEMPAA will prevail if the conflict concerns the management or development of protected areas (NEMPAA section 7(1)(a)).

The MPRDA prohibits any right for the prospecting or mining of minerals from being granted over residential areas, public roads, public railways, public cemeteries, land being used for public or government purposes or over any other area identified by the Minister of Mineral Resources, unless the minister is satisfied that the granting of the right is in the national interest, the operations will take place within the framework of the national environmental policies and the interests of other holders of prospecting or mining rights will not be adversely affected (section 48).

Restrictions imposed by NEMPAA

In addition to the restrictions under the MPRDA, NEMPAA could potentially affect the mineral and petroleum industry in two ways. First, despite being granted the required mineral right in terms of the MPRDA, no person may conduct prospecting, mining, exploration or any related activities in any:

  • nature reserve or national park;
  • protected environment without the prescribed permissions;
  • world heritage site;
  • marine protected area; or
  • protected forest areas, forest nature reserves and forest wilderness areas that have been declared in terms of the National forests Act, No 84 of 1998 (section 48(1) and 48A(1)(g)).

Further, if an area has been or is proposed to be declared as part of a national protected area or as part of a national park after a mineral right is granted, the responsible minister is empowered to expropriate or cancel a mineral right, servitude or any other privately held right in the land (sections 80, 81, 82 and 84). When cancelling or expropriating any rights the provisions of the Constitution of the Republic of South Africa and the Expropriation Act, No 63 of 1975, are applicable. These require the right holder to be compensated for the expropriated right.

A Primer – National Environmental Management Act

The National Environmental Management Act, No 107 of 1998 (NEMA) is the principle act that governs environmental management in South Africa. NEMA was enacted with the objectives of ensuring sustainable development and use of natural resources. This act is complimented by other specific environmental management acts, each regulating more specific environmental concerns. These complimentary acts include the NEMA: Protected Areas Act, NEMA: Biodiversity Act and the National Water Act.

During 2013 and 2014 NEMA and the Mineral and Petroleum Resources Development Act, No 28 of 2002 (MPRDA) underwent a series of amendments. These amendments sought to remove all of the provisions regulating environmental management from the MPRDA and insert provisions to regulate the mineral and petroleum industry into NEMA. This created a single environmental management system that now regulates environmental management in South Africa.

Environmental authorisations in terms of NEMA

The key provisions in NEMA that are applicable to the mineral and petroleum industry are that must be considered is the requirement to obtain regulatory approval before commencing with certain listed activities (section 23 and 24). Before any prospecting, mining, exploration or production of mineral or petroleum resources, or any other incidental work, can be undertaken a person must granted an environmental authorisation in terms of NEMA in addition to the permit or right required in terms of the MPRDA (section 5A(a) and (b) of the MPRDA and section 24 of NEMA).

The application for the required environmental authorisation is done as part of the application for a right or permit in terms of the MPRDA. When submitting an application for a right or permit in terms of the MPRDA an applicant is required to submit an environmental management programme (section 24N(1A) of NEMA), also referred to as an EMP, within the following periods once an application has been accepted:

  • Prospecting Right: 60 days (section 16(4)(a) of the MPRDA);
  • Mining Right: 180 days (section 22(4)(a) of the MPRDA);
  • Mining Permit: Simultaneously (section 27(2) of the MPRDA);
  • Reconnaissance Permit: 60 days (section 74(4)(b) of the MPRDA);
  • Exploration Right: 120 days (section 79(4)(b) of the MPRDA);
  • Production Right: 180 days (section 83(4)(b) of the MPRDA).

It must be kept in mind that NEMA regulates more than just the mineral and petroleum industry. As a result, some activities that are conducted as part of the mining or production operations might be regulated separately under NEMA. Depending on the circumstances the EMP that is submitted as part of the MPRDA application procedure might have to be extended to address these additional incidental activities or a separate environmental authorisation might need to be considered. Some of the additional listed activities that could be applicable to the mineral and petroleum industry are:

  • the construction of infrastructure for the generation of electricity;
  • the construction of coal storage facilities;
  • construction of facilities for the bulk transportation of sewerage or storm water;
  • construction of canals, bridges, dams, reservoirs and bulk storm water outlets;
  • earth moving activities in, or within one hundred meters of the sea, an estuary or littoral active zone;
  • construction of roads with a reserve wider than thirteen and a half meters or without a reserve wider than eight meters;
  • the physical alteration of more than twenty hectares of undeveloped land for industrial use;
  • construction of railway lines; and
  • the bulk transport of dangerous goods.

Additional considerations in NEMA

In addition to the requirement to obtain authorisation to conduct certain activities, NEMA also regulates the following matters that should be taken into consideration:

  • the requirement to provide a “financial provision“, such as a bank guarantee, that can be used to undertake rehabilitation and mine closure (section 24P);
  • performance monitoring and assessment (section 24Q);
  • the management of residue stockpiles and residue deposits, including discard, tailings, dumps and waste rock (section 24S); and
  • the continuing environmental obligations and mine closure requirements (section 24R).

A Primer – Mineral and Petroleum Resources Development Act

Since 1 May 2004 the Mineral and Petroleum Resources Development Act, No 28 of 2002 (MPRDA) has been the principle piece of legislation that regulates the South African mineral and petroleum sector. This act will generally be applicable to any project that involves the any prospecting for or mining of minerals, or any exploration for or production of petroleum resources.

The MPRDA was enacted with the objectives of promoting local and rural development, ensuring equal access to minerals, and eradicating discriminatory practices in the industry, while still guaranteeing security of tenure to participants in the industry and increasing the industries international competitiveness.

One of the fundamental changes that were brought about by the MPRDA was the abolishment of the right for persons to privately own minerals and petroleum rights. The state is now the custodian of all mineral and petroleum resources and these resources are held by the state for the benefit of all South Africans (section 3(1)). To ensure security of tenure for holders of mineral and petroleum rights that were held under the previous mineral regime, these holders were granted a five year period to convert their rights to a right issued in terms of the MPRDA.

The requirement to be granted a licence

Before conducting any prospecting or mining of minerals, or exploration or production of petroleum resources, a person must first be granted a permit or right from the Department of Mineral Resources authorising the intended activity.

The MPRDA regulates minerals and petroleum as defined in the act. These terms are defined broadly but the definitions do contain exceptions.

A mineral is defined as any solid, liquid or gaseous substance occurring naturally in or on the earth or in or under water that was formed by or subjected to geological processes. Importantly, the definition of “mineral” includes sand, stone, rock, gravel, clay and soil, and all minerals in residue stockpiles or residue deposits (including dumps, debris, discard, tailings and slimes) (section 1). The definition of mineral excludes water and peat (section 1).

Petroleum is defined as any liquid, solid hydrocarbon or combustible gas existing in a natural condition in the earth’s crust. The definition excludes coal, bituminous shale, stratified deposits from which oil can be obtained by destructive, distillation, and gasses rising from marshes or other surface deposits (section 1).

The licence application procedure

Before conducting any prospecting or mining of minerals, or exploration or production of petroleum resources, a person must:

  • be granted a right by the Minister of Mineral Resources authorising the intended activity in terms of the MPRDA (section 5A(b));
  • be granted an environmental authorisation in terms of the National Environmental Management Act (NEMA) (section 5A(a));
  • conduct consultations with all landowners and other persons that could be interested in, or affected by, the intended operations; and
  • give the landowner or occupier of the land at least twenty one days’ notice of the intended activities (section 5A(c)).

The application procedure for a right is designed to ensure that the objectives of the MPRDA are promoted by ensuring that all interested and affected parties are notified of the application and that the black economic empowerment objectives in the MPRDA are also promoted.

All interested and affected parties must be notified of the pending application and are called upon to raise any objection that they may have against the application (section 10). The applicant is also required to hold consultations with the landowners and occupiers of the property and all other interested and affected parties (sections 16(4)(b), 22(4)(b) and 27(5)(a)).

Broad based black economic empowerment requirements (local participation)

The black economic empowerment objectives in the MPRDA are promoted during the application procedure. The empowerment objectives require the promotion of access to resources and the expansion of opportunities for disadvantaged persons, women and communities to enter into the mineral and petroleum industry.

Before a prospecting right, mining right, exploration right or production right is granted the minister must be satisfied that the granting of the right will substantially and meaningfully expand the opportunities for these groups (sections 17(1)(f), 23(1)(h), 80(1)(g) and 84(1)(i) as read with section 2(d)).

The empowerment requirements are expanded on in the Broad-Based Socio-Economic Empowerment Charter for the South African Mining and Metals Industry that was published in 2010. The charter has various elements that must be complied with to ensure that the project will satisfy the empowerment requirements and qualify for a licence.

Generally, in order for the empowerment objectives to be satisfied and the application to be granted a minimum of twenty six per cent of the project should be owned by historically disadvantaged South Africans, and historically disadvantaged South Africans should participate in the management of the company.

Categories of licences that can be granted in terms of the MPRDA

The following licences can be granted in terms of the MPRDA:

To prospect for minerals:

  • A reconnaissance permission:
    • Granted for a non-renewable period of 1 year (section 14).
    • Allows only for the search of minerals by geological, geophysical and photo geological surveys or through the use of remote sensing techniques (section 5A as read with section 1).
  • A prospecting right:
    • Granted for a maximum period of 5 years (section 17(6)).
    • Renewable for 1 further single period that can’t exceed 3 years (section 18(4)).
    • Allows for prospecting by any means, including methods that disturb the surface or subsurface of the earth, whether on land, under sea or under water (section 5A read with section 1).
    • Diamonds and bulk samples of other minerals that are found during the prospecting operations can only be disposed of with the consent of the minister (section 20(2)). This consent is typically granted in the form of a bulk sampling permit.

To mine for minerals

  • A mining right:
    • Granted for a maximum period of 30 years (section 23(6)).
    • Renewable for further periods. Each further period may not exceed 30 years (section 24(4)).
  • A mining permit:
    • A mining permit is intended for small scale mining operations and may only be issued if (i) the mineral can be mined optimally in 2 years; and (ii) the area is 5 hectares or less.
    • Granted for a maximum period of 2 years (section 27(8)(a)).
    • May be renewed a maximum of 3 times. Each renewal may not be longer than 1 year (section 27(8)(b)).

To explore for petroleum

  • A reconnaissance permit:
    • Granted for a non-renewable period of 1 year (section 74(4)).
    • Allows only for the search of petroleum by geological, geophysical and photo geological surveys or through the use of remote sensing techniques (section 5A as read with section 1).
  • A technical cooperation permit:
    • Granted for a non-renewable period of 1 year (section 77(4)).
    • Allows the holder to conduct a technical cooperation study and grants the holder the exclusive right to later apply for an exploration right over the area (section 77(4) and section 78(1)).
  • An exploration right:
    • Granted for a maximum period of 3 years (section 80(5)).
    • May be renewed a maximum of 3 times. Each renewal may not be longer than 2 years (section 81(5)).

To produce petroleum

  • A production right:
    • Granted for a maximum period of 30 years (section 84(4)).
    • Renewable for further periods. Each further period may not exceed 30 years (section 85(4)).

A Guide to the Mineral and Petroleum Industry in South Africa

What laws apply to the mineral and petroleum industry in South Africa? What potential pitfalls must a person look out for when they consider entering into these industries in South Africa?

Unfortunately this isn’t an easy or quick question to answer because the applicable laws and regulations will depend on the projects scope and characteristics – the intended mining or production activities, infrastructure requirements and the project location. But there are two acts that can serve as a starting point. The principle act regulating the mineral and petroleum sector is the Mineral and Petroleum Resources Development Act (MPRDA), and the principle act regulating environmental management is the National Environmental Management Act (NEMA).

In any project it may, however, be necessary to consider various other laws and regulations. The purpose of this note is to give a starting point for a more in depth exploration of the laws applicable to the mineral and petroleum industry.

The following list has links to discussions on some of the acts and regulations in South Africa that may be considered. This list is unfortunately incomplete and non-exhaustive.

Mineral and petroleum licensing and permitting

Environmental management

Water management

Taxation

  • Income Tax Act, No 58 of 1962 (Income Tax Act);
  • Mineral and Petroleum Resources Royalty Act, No 28 of 2008 (Royalty Act);
  • Mineral and Petroleum Resources Royalty (Administration) Act, No 29 of 2008 (Royalty Admin Act).

Industry specific legislation:

  • Diamonds Act, No 56 of 1986 (Diamonds Act);
  • Petroleum Products Act, No 120 of 1977 (Petroleum Products Act);
  • Precious Metals Act, No 37 of 2005 (Precious Metals Act).

The Perils of Shareholders Agreements in South Africa

How enforceable are the clauses in your company’s shareholders agreement?

Unfortunately, for many shareholders an investigation into the legal aspects regulating shareholders agreements will lead to the conclusion that many of the provisions in their shareholders’ agreements are void.

When buying shares in a private company or forming a new private company, it is common practice to enter into a shareholders agreement with company’s other shareholders. The shareholders agreement is intended to regulate the important internal governance structures of the company like the appointment of directors and the calling of directors and shareholders meetings, and in many instances give important protection mechanisms to minority shareholders.

In many cases shareholders agreements are concluded without the shareholders considering the impact that the company’s constitutional documents (the company’s memorandum of incorporation (MOI) might have on the validity of the shareholders agreement.

This means that it is common for a company’s MOI to render many clauses in a shareholders agreement void and unenforceable if there is a dispute between the shareholders.

To understand why, I will briefly explain how the practice of concluding shareholders agreements without the necessity to consider the company’s MOI developed in terms of the old Companies Act (Act No 61 of 1973), and the significant changes that the new Companies Act (Act No 71 of 2008) had on this practice.

The historical use of shareholders agreements

Under the old Companies Act a company’s constitutional documents were its memorandum of association and articles of association. These documents, and any amendments to them, had to be registered at the Registrar of Companies and became public documents that were open to inspection. An amendment to the articles of association needs to be registered, and this makes the provisions that regulate the company’s internal affairs public.

A shareholders agreement was, however, a private contract that didn’t need to be registered. It could be concluded between the shareholders at any time, even after the company’s incorporation, and it was enforceable between the shareholders and the company even though it was not registered.

A shareholders agreement could be used to regulate important aspects of the company without amending its articles of association and making those provisions public.

Provisions in the shareholders agreements were often in direct conflict with the company’s articles of association. To counteract this a shareholders agreement would typically include a clause stating that if there was any conflict, the shareholders agreement would be the document that takes precedence. Under the old Companies Act a provision like this, making a private shareholders agreement trump the company’s public registered constitutional documents, was permitted in law.

Practically this lead to a situation where a private company’s constitutional documents could effectively be ignored by its shareholders, and the shareholders would merely regulate the affairs of the company through a shareholders agreement.

Changes to shareholders agreements under the new Companies Act

The new Companies Act has, however, dramatically changed the possible scope and effectiveness of shareholders agreements in two ways:

  • it has altered how conflicting clauses the MOI and a shareholders agreement are resolved; and
  • it has curtailed what the shareholders are entitled to regulate in a shareholders agreement by now providing that some issues can’t be changed or regulated at all (unalterable provisions), and that some issues can be regulated but only if they are regulated in the MOI (alterable provisions).

The new Companies Act: Conflicts between the MOI and shareholders agreements

Shareholders agreements aren’t prohibited under the new Companies Act, but it does limit the potential ambit of shareholders agreements by requiring that any shareholders agreement must be consistent with the provisions of the act and with the company’s MOI (section 15(7)).

If there is any inconsistency between the shareholders agreement and either the Companies Act or the company’s MOI, then the conflicting provision in the shareholders’ agreement is void and will be unenforceable (section 15(7)).

A clause in a shareholders agreement that provides that the shareholders agreement will take precedence over the memorandum of incorporation if there is a conflict is void, first because the clause would itself be a provision that is inconsistent with the act (section 15(7)), and secondly because it would fall afoul of the acts anti avoidance provisions by attempting to defeat or reduce the effect of the acts prohibitions or requirements (section 6(1)). These types of provisions would not provide any assistance to the shareholders if they attempt to enforce a conflicting provision in a shareholders agreement.

Under the new Companies Act shareholders are still entitled to enter into shareholders agreements, but they must now inspect the company’s MOI before concluding these agreements to make sure that the shareholders agreement doesn’t conflict with the MOI.

If there is a conflict between what is in the MOI and what is in the shareholders’ agreement, the clause in the shareholders’ agreement is void and gives the shareholders’ no protection.

The new Companies Act: Unalterable and alterable provisions

A legal aspect that is related to the requirement that a shareholders agreement must be consistent with the company’s MOI, is the introduction of the concept of “unalterable” and “alterable” provisions by the new Companies Act.

The new Companies Act contains provisions and principles that are stipulated as unalterable. A company’s MOI can’t contain any clause that negates, restricts, limits, qualifies, extends or alters the substance or effect of an unalterable provision (section 15(2)(d)). Any attempt to alter these unalterable provisions in the MOI will be void (section 15(1)).

Likewise, these unalterable provisions of the Companies Act can’t be negated or altered by the shareholders in a shareholders agreement because these provisions in the shareholders’ agreement would be contrary to the act, and void (section 15(7)).

Opposed to unalterable provisions, the new Companies Act contains provisions and principles that are specifically stipulated as being alterable. These alterable provisions may, however, only be altered if they are expressly altered by the company in its MOI (section 19(1)(c)(ii)). (A company did have a two year transitional period to update its MOI, but this period ended on 30 April 2013. I have previously written an overview of the Companies Acts transitional period for shareholders agreements here.)

Any attempt by the shareholders to alter an alterable provision by concluding a shareholders agreement will be void because these provisions in the shareholders’ agreement would be contrary to the act (section 15(7)).

Limitations placed on shareholders agreements

A shareholders agreement:

  • can’t be used to alter an unalterable provision in the Companies Act; and
  • can’t be used to alter an alterable provision in the Companies Act; and
  • can’t conflict with any provision in the company’s MOI.

These legal restrictions didn’t exist under the old Companies Act, meaning that shareholders agreements prepared according to the old Companies Act could be void under the current act. Also, it means that when preparing new shareholders agreements care should be taken to ensure that the new shareholders agreement complies with the new Companies Act.

Unfortunately it is not possible to give a complete list of unalterable and alterable provisions in this article, but a list of the most common clauses that are found in shareholders agreements, that may be void because they conflict with the Companies Act are briefly discussed.

Unalterable provisions

The following provisions can’t be altered at all, and any clause in a shareholders agreement that conflicts with them will be void:

  • A private company must restrict the offer of shares to the public (section 8(2)(b));
  • A private company must restrict the transferability of its shares (section 8(2)(b));
  • If a company has more than 2 shareholders, a meeting may not begin or a matter may not be decided, unless 3 or more shareholders are present (section 64(3);
  • Private and public companies must provide for the election by shareholders of at least 50% of the directors, and 50% of any alternate directors (section 66(4)(b));
  • A company may only pay remuneration to its directors for their service as directors if the remuneration has been approved by special resolution within the previous 2 years (section 66(8) and (9));
  • The Companies Act takeover regulations apply to private companies if the percentage of the issued securities of that company that have been transferred within the period of 24 months immediately before the date of a particular affected transaction or offer exceeds the prescribed percentage (section 118(1)).

Categories of provisions that are alterable only in the MOI

These are alterable provisions that can only be altered in a company’s MOI. An attempt to regulate these matters in a shareholders agreement will be void.

These aspects of a company and its management can only be regulated in the MOI:

  • Management of the Company:
    • the removal of the boards power to make binding interim rules that are incidental to the governance of the company (section 15(3));

Ensuring that the Shareholders Agreement complies with the Companies Act

When buying shares in a private company or forming a new private company, it is important to ensure that when a shareholders’ agreement is entered into, that the shareholders agreement is fully valid.

A comparison between the shareholders’ agreement and the company’s MOI must be done:

  • no changes can be made to an unalterable provision of the Companies Act at all;
  • if the shareholders want to change the application of any alterable provisions, this must be done in the MOI because the provision will be void if it is only in the shareholders’ agreement;
  • if there is any inconsistencies between the MOI and the shareholders’ agreement, the provision in the shareholders’ agreement will be void.

An important observation to take away from this discussion is that the MOI, not the shareholders’ agreement, should be the primary focus for shareholders.

How enforceable are the clauses in your company’s shareholders agreement?

When the Minister of Mineral Resources Ignores You

If a commercial transaction is concluded with a person that holds a right issued by the Department of Mineral Resources (“the department”) care must be exercised to ensure that the required regulatory approvals needed for the implementation of the transaction has been granted. Examples of commercial transactions that need ministerial approval in terms of the Mineral and Petroleum Resources Development Act No 28 of 2002 (MPRDA) before they can be implemented include agreements that would result in:

  • a transfer a prospecting right or mining right, for example a sale, cession or donation of the right;
  • a transfer any interest in prospecting right or mining right, for example the transfer of an undivided share in a right; and
  • a transfer a controlling interest in a company holds a prospecting right or mining right, for example a sale of shares agreement or an issue and allotment of new shares resulting in a change of control (section 11(1) of the MPRDA).

To get consent to implement these transactions a formal application must be submitted to the department. Unfortunately, the legislation does not provide any maximum time limits that are applicable when considering the application. In most cases an application submitted to the department is approved without too much delay, but in some cases months, if not years, may pass without the application for consent being considered.

Delays in the approval process can have drastic consequences on commercial transactions because without the required consent they can’t become effective and can’t be implemented by the parties. What can a person do if there is a significant delay in the approval process after the application for ministerial consent has been submitted? The most common answer is for a person to bring an application to court, and ask the court to grant an order forcing the department to perform its duty. This court relief is referred to as a mandatory interdict, or a mandamus. In many situations this relief would be a sufficient; the matter is referred back to the department for consideration within a court specified time line.

The purpose of this article is, however, to explore alternate legal remedies that could be used if there is a significant delay in the approval process. Particularly:

  • Can a person bring a court application for a court order granting an application that was submitted in terms of the MPRDA, without the need to refer the matter back to the minister for consideration?

The general right to just administrative action

Any action taken by an organ of state must be (i) lawful; (ii) reasonable; and (iii) procedurally fair. If an action does not meet with these requirements a person who has been affected by the action has the right to approach a court to “review” the infringing action, and ask the court for appropriate relief. This right of judicial review stems from the Constitution of the Republic of South Africa 1996 (the Constitution), and is given effect by the Promotion of Administrative Justice Act 3 of 2000 (PAJA) (in particular see section 33 of the Constitution).

Both actions and inactions of the government can be reviewed by a court. This is because an “administrative action” is defined to include any decision taken, or the failure or refusal to take a decision, by an organ of state when exercising a public power or performing a public function in terms of legislation (the definition of “administrative action” as read with the definition of “failure” contained in section 1).

A court has wide powers when reviewing an administrative decision (see section 8 of PAJA). In cases where the government’s administrative action amounts to the failure or refusal to take a decision, then the court may grant any order that it just and equitable, including an order:

  • directing the taking of a decision; or
  • declaring the rights of the parties in relation to the taking of a decision.

Accordingly, if the minister fails to consider an application that has been submitted by a person in terms of the MPRDA, the ministers inaction will be “an administrative action”, and falls within the ambit of PAJA. Under these circumstances a person should be able to approach the court for appropriate relief.

The right to approach a court directly for relief in terms of PAJA is, however, curtailed if the applicable legislation, such as the MPRDA, contains an internal appeal procedure (section 6(2)(g) and 7(2)(a) of PAJA).

Court action versus the department’s internal appeal process

A person’s right to approach the court to review an administrative decision in terms of PAJA is not unlimited. A person can’t approach a court until any internal appeal process in the applicable law, such as the MPRDA, has been exhausted (section 7(2)(a) of PAJA). It is intended that a person’s first port of call should be the legislated internal appeal procedure. A person can only approach a court if the applicable act doesn’t have an appeal procedure, or after the appeal procedure has been followed. Exceptions to this rule do, however, exist, and a person is entitled to approach the court directly without first exhausting the internal appeal procedure is there are “exceptional circumstances” (section 7(2)(c) of PAJA).

To phrase these requirements differently, a court can be approached to review an administrative action if:

  • an internal appeal was submitted but it was unsuccessful (section 7(2)(a) of PAJA); or
  • the particular law has no internal appeal procedure that is applicable; or
  • the particular law has an internal appeal procedure, but there are exceptional circumstances that are applicable, the court exempts the applicant from having to follow the internal appeal procedure (section 7(2)(c) of PAJA).

What is the correct legal process if the minister fails to consider an application that has been submitted by a person in terms of the MPRDA? This will depend on whether the MPRDA contains an internal remedy that can be relied on when the minister fails to take any action.

Can the MPRDA’s internal appeal procedure be used when the minister fails to take a decision?

Is there an internal appeal in situations where the minister fails to take a decision, or does the internal appeal procedure in the MPRDA only apply to decisions that have actually been taken? Is it correct to argue that the internal appeal procedure must be followed in a situation where the minister fails to make a decision in terms of the MPRDA?

If the internal appeal procedure doesn’t apply to a failure to take a decision then there will be no requirement to institute an internal appeal. In these circumstances a person will be entitled to approach the court immediately without having to prove that there are exceptional circumstances that allow the court to exempt the person from the internal appeal requirements.

In order to answer this question the internal appeal procedure that is set out in the MPRDA must be examined.

The internal appeal procedure in terms of the Mineral and Petroleum Resources Development Act

The MPRDA has an internal appeal process that can be relied on in some circumstances (section 96). This internal appeal process can be summarised as follows:

  • A person is prohibited from applying to court for the review of an “administrative decision” of the department until they have exhausted the remedies set out in the MPRDA (section 96(3)).
  • A person whose rights or legitimate expectations have been materially and adversely affected, or who is aggrieved by any “administrative decision”, may appeal within 30 days of becoming aware of such administrative decision (section 96(1)), setting out:
    • the actions appealed against; and
    • the grounds on which the appeal is based (regulation 74(2)).
  • A copy of the appeal will be dispatched by the department to:
    • the person in the department responsible for the administrative decision, who must then within 21 days submit written reasons for the administrative decision appealed against (regulations 74(5)(a) and 74(6)); and
    • any other person, whose rights may be affected by the outcome of the appeal, who must then within 21 days submit a replying submission indicating the extent and nature of his or her rights, and how they will be affected by the appeal (regulations 74(5)(a) and 74(7)).
  • The department will then dispatch the written reasons and any replying submissions that it received to the appellant, and the appellant is then afforded 21 days to reply to these reasons and submissions (regulation 74(8)).
  • Within 30 days from the receipt of the appellant’s response, the minister or director-general must either:
    • confirm the administrative decision concerned;
    • set aside the administrative decision concerned;
    • amend the administrative decision concerned; or
    • substitute any other administrative decision for the administrative decision concerned (regulation 74(9).
  • The lodging of an appeal does not suspend the administrative decision, unless it is suspended by the director-general or the minister (section 96(2)(a)).

Does this procedure apply when the minister fails to take a decision?

As discussed, a person does not have the right to approach a court to review any administrative action unless any internal appeal procedure in the MPRDA has been exhausted or unless there are exceptional circumstances that allow the court to exempt the person from the internal appeal requirements.

The MPRDA does have an internal appeal process (section 96), but does the MPRDA’s internal appeal procedure apply in situations where the minister fails to take a decision?

An “administrative action” is defined in PAJA to include the failure to take a decision, but the MPRDA’s appeal procedure doesn’t use this term. The MPRDA’s internal appeal procedure states that it applies to “administrative decisions”, a term that is not defined.

The wording and context of the internal appeal procedure supports a conclusion that the term “administrative decision” can only relate to decisions that have actually been taken, and doesn’t apply to a failure to take a decision:

  • The MPRDA requires that any “decision taken” must be taken within a reasonable time, must be in writing, and must be accompanied by written reasons for the decision (sections 6(1) and (2)). In a situation where the minister has failed to consider an application there will be no “decision” taken. This non-decision is not capable of being reduced to writing, and similarly it will not be possible to give any reasons for the non-decision.
  • An internal appeal must be lodged within 30 days of becoming aware of the administrative decision (section 96(1)). It is impossible to comply with this requirement if no positive action is taken, especially when the MPRDA does not prescribe a fixed duration during which the decision must be taken. If the minister has an indeterminable amount of time to consider the application, when must this 30 day period be calculated from?
  • The internal appeal procedure is worded to apply to an administrative decision that “was taken” (section 96(1)(b)). The language of the section clearly implies that there must have been some form of act by the minister, not just a failure to take a decision.
  • The internal appeal procedure does not automatically suspend the decision that is appeal against (section 96(2)(a)). In a situation where there has been no decision at all, this provision can’t be applied because there is nothing to suspend.
  • As part of the internal appeal procedure, a person must be provided with written reason by the person who took the decision that is appealed against (regulations 74(5) and 74(6)). In a case where no decision has been taken at all, it is not possible for the department to comply with the regulation and give “written reasons for the administrative decision”.

The conclusion that the term “administrative decision” can only relate to decisions that have actually been taken, and not to a failure to take a decision, can also be demonstrated by considering what the final appeal procedure could be if the term “administrative decision” did include the failure to take an action.

  • What would the legal situation then be if the minister either failed or refused to consider the appeal in the required time lines?
  • An internal appeal would be submitted, and it would request that the minister either (i) amends the department’s failure to take a decision; or (ii) substitutes the failure to take a decision with a positive decision to grant the application (regulations 74(9)(c) and (d)).
  • What would the legal situation then be if the minister ignored an application that was submitted an internal appeal would have to be lodged with the department against this failure to take a decision.
    • Would this failure to consider the appeal fall also under the definition of an “administrative decision” in terms of the MPRDA? Would a person be prevented from applying to a court to review the failure to consider the appeal until the internal remedies in the MPRDA have been exhausted, requiring the appellant to lodge a second internal appeal against the ministers failure to determine the first appeal (section 96(3))?
    • Must the person now bring an application to court, and ask the court to grant an order forcing the minister to perform their duty and determine the first appeal (ie a mandamus)? If so, then the person has now expended considerable time and resources to bring a court action just to place it in the same position where it was immediately after lodging the appeal, namely its appeal has been lodged and the minister is now compelled (in terms of the court order this time) to comply with the required time lines.
  • When the minister considers the appeal, the minister may decide that the appeal fails, and to substitute the failure to take a decision with a decision to refuse the application.
    • In this case the person will then have to lodge an internal appeal against the ministers decision to refuse the application.
    • Once the internal appeal procedure has been exhausted, the applicant would then only be entitled to approach a court to review the administrative action.

This process is a far cry away from that an internal appeal process should achieve; a quick and cost effective method to resolve irregularities before instituting legal action.

I would submit that the term “administrative decision” in terms of the MPRDA has a narrower definition than “administrative action” under PAJA, and that this term should not be interpreted to include situations where there has been a failure to take a decision, but only to include situations where a decision has indeed been taken which is prejudicial.

The alternative: Reliance on exceptional circumstances to bypass an internal appeal process

Even if the above argument is rejected, PAJA allows a person to bypass any applicable internal appeal process if there are exceptional circumstances that would allow the court to exempt the non-compliance with the internal appeal procedure (section 7(2)(c)). It would be prudent for any person who wants to bring a court action without first lodging an internal appeal to ask the court to grant an exemption from having to lodge in internal appeal, as an alternative to the argument that there is no internal appeal.

The “exceptional circumstances” that are typically accepted by the courts when granting an exemption from complying with internal appeal procedures are discussed in the next section.

Appropriate legal action and possible relief

If the minister ignores an application that has been submitted and does not consider it at all, an affected person will be able to approach the court in terms of PAJA directly without first exhausting the internal appeal procedure because the internal appeal procedure will not be applicable in these circumstances. As an alternative, an affected person can ask the court for an exemption from the internal appeal process if there are exceptional circumstances that are applicable.

An affected person can approach the court as soon as there has been an unreasonable delay in taking a decision (sections 6(2)(g) and 6(3)(a) of PAJA). It is possible to ask the court to grant any order that it just and equitable (section 8(2) of PAJA), including an order:

  • substituting or varying an administrative action (section 8(1)(c)(ii)(aa));
  • directing the taking of a decision (section 8(2)(a)); or
  • declaring the rights of the affected person (section 8(2)(b). (It might be noted that the legal action listed has relief in terms of both sections 8(1) and 8(2) of PAJA, even though the failure to take an administrative action falls in the ambit of section 8(2). I submit that the wording of section 8(2), permitting the grant of any order that is just and equitable, would not preclude the court from substituting its decision where the minister has failed to act. See the discussion by C Hoexter (Hoexter, C. 2012. Administrative Law in South Africa. Cape Town: Juta, at pg. 557) for further argument in support of this submission).

There has been a lot of recent discussion about the legal doctrine of the separation of powers; how the courts (judiciary) should not overstep its role and perform acts that fall into the realm that should be occupied ministers (the executive). PAJA does, however, directly empower the court to come to the aid of a person when the executive acts unlawfully, and allows the court to effectively make a decision on behalf of the minister when the minister fails to take a decision in a reasonable time (see sections 8(1)(c)(ii)(aa) and 8(2)(a) of PAJA; de Ville, JR. 2003. Judicial Review of Administrative Action in South Africa. Durban: LexisNexis Butterworths, at pg. 370; Hoexter, C. 2012. Administrative Law in South Africa. Cape Town: Juta, at pg. 552).

There are four situations where a court will be prepared to substitute its decision with the decision of the minister, without referring the matter back to the minister for decision. These are:

  • when the end result is a forgone conclusion;
  • when any further delay will cause unjustifiable prejudice;
  • when the original decision maker has exhibited bias or incompetence; or
  • where the court is as well qualified as the original authority to make the decision (Hoexter, 2012, pgs. 552 – 557).

For many applications the MPRDA doesn’t allow the minister to use any discretion when considering the application. The power granted to the minister is not a discretionary power; the minister must grant consent if the requirements for transfer are complied with. If the requirements are met the result is a forgone conclusion; the minister must grant the application.

Applications where the minister is compelled to grant a compliant application include applications for consent to transfer a right (section 11(2)), applications for prospecting rights (section 17(1)) and applications for mining rights (section 23(1)).

For these categories of applications it can be argued that, (i) the court is as qualified as the minister to make the decision, and (ii) that the end result of the application is a foregone conclusion. Once the court has had the opportunity to review and consider the application that was submitted, the court will be as well qualified as the minister to determine if the application placed before it meets the objective criteria the applicable section, and grant the application if all the requirements are met.

In addition to meeting these two requirements for substitution of a decision by the court, a person may also be able to advance reasons to show the court that further delay will cause unjustifiable prejudice.

Based on these considerations I submit that a person would be entitled to approach a court for direct relief and ask the court to substitute its decision with the minister’s decision.

Conclusion (Too Long; Didn’t Read)

What should be done if an application has been submitted to the Department of Mineral Resources, and the department has failed to take any action or consider the application?

  • If time is not of the essence in the underlying commercial transaction, a court application can be brought asking for an order to force the department to perform its duty. The matter would then be referred back to the department for consideration within a court specified time line.
  • If time is of the essence, a person can approach a court for direct relief and ask the court to grant the application, effectively substituting its decision with the minister’s decision. In order to be successful it must be argued that:
    • the MPRDA’s internal appeal process does not apply to situations where the minister fails to take a decision, alternatively that there are exceptional circumstances that would allow the court to exempt the non-compliance with the internal appeal procedure; and
    • the end result is a forgone conclusion; or
    • when any further delay will cause unjustifiable prejudice; or
    • when the original decision maker has exhibited bias or incompetence; or
    • where the court is as well qualified as the original authority to make the decision.

Related Reading:

South African Mining and Prospecting Rights May Expire Sooner than Anticipated

Prospecting and mining rights in South Africa are granted in terms of the Mineral and Petroleum Resources Development Act No 28 of 2002 (MPRDA) for a fixed duration. Prospecting rights are granted for a maximum period of 5 years renewable for a further single period not exceeding 3 years, and mining rights are granted for a maximum period of 30 years renewable for further 30 year periods.

In the case of the Minister of Mineral Resources vs Mawetse (SA) Mining Corporation (Pty) Ltd ((20069/14) [2015] ZASCA 82), the South African Supreame Court of Appeal was was asked to determine what date the duration of a right should be calculated from. The court held that the duration of rights must not be calculated from the date that the right was notarially executed, or calculated with reference to the termination dates that are contained in the right itself. The court determined that the duration of the right should be calculated from the date that the applicant for the right was informed that the right would be granted.

Application procedure

To understand the reasoning of the court, and why the decision will lead to uncertainty in practice, the procedure followed by the Department of Mineral Resources (DMR) when a company applies for a right in terms of the MPRDA should be outlined:

  • An applicant for a mining right or prospecting right must make payment of a non-refundable application fee and lodge its application in the prescribed manner at the offices of the regional manager in whose region the land is situated.
  • The regional manager must accept the application for consideration if the formal requirements for its lodging have been complied with and if no other person holds or has submitted an application for a prospecting right or mining right over the land for the same mineral.
  • After the acceptance of the application the regional manager must make it known that an application has been received, must call on interested parties to submit comments on the application, and must notify the applicant that it must submit the required environmental reports.
  • If the requirements for the grant of the right have been complied with, the applicant will be notified that the right has been granted, will be advised of any conditions attached to the grant of the right, and will be requested to make itself available at the regional offices to notarially execute the right.
  • The DMR’s practice is to calculate the duration of a right from the date of its execution, and record the expiry date calculated using this method as a clause in the in the right.

Facts and Legal Decision

The facts of the Mawetse case are the following:

  • In November 2006 Dilokong Chrome Mine (Pty) Limited applied for a prospecting right.
  • In December 2006 the regional manager issued a letter of acceptance, and requested Dilokong to give effect to the empowerment provisions of the MPRDA and submit supporting documents to evidence its compliance.
  • In July 2007 the deputy director general of the DMR wrote to Dilokong to confirm that the right had been granted for a period of four years.
  • During November 2007, on the date on which the prospecting right was to be executed, Dilokong was informed that the right would not be executed by the department because Dilokong had failed to comply with the empowerment criteria.
  • The environmental management plan submitted by Dilokong was never approved and the prospecting right was never executed.
  • In September 2009 Mawetse applied for rights in respect of the same mineral and land as Dilokong’s application. Mawetse’s application was, however, rejected on the basis that Dilokong had been granted rights over the area.

The decision to reject Mawetse’s application was taken on review. One of Mawetse’s contentions was that there was no conflicting right because Dilokong’s right had been granted for four years, and more than four years had already lapsed since Dilokong’s application had been aproved. In response Dilokong argued that the period that its right was granted for had not started running because the right had not yet been executed, and had not become effective.

The court stated that a right is granted for a limited period and expires through the effluxion of time. To determine if a right has expired, it is necessary to determine the date that the right was granted. The court held that there are three distinct legal processes that must be distinguished from each other, namely (i) the granting of the right; (ii) the execution of the right; and (iii) the coming into effect of the right.

The court rejected the argument advanced by Dilokong that the DDG’s approval had not started running because the right had not been executed and had not become effective, stating that this argument was untenable because it would mean that the area was effectively sterilised in favour of Dilokong. The court held that the period of Dilokong’s prospecting right must be calculated from the date on which it was informed that its application was successful and that the right was granted, namely in July 2007.

The court held that Dilokong’s prospecting right, which had been granted during July 2007, had lapsed due to its expiry, notwithstanding that the right had not been executed and that the right had not become effective.

Practical Implications of the Decision

The decision in the case of Minister of Mineral Resources v Mawetse (SA) Mining Corporation (Pty) Ltd has two important implications for mineral rights granted in terms of the MPRDA:

  • first, the departmental practice of calculating the duration of a right from the date of the rights execution is not sanctioned by the provisions of the MPRDA; and
  • secondly, a right, including the exclusive right to apply for a renewal thereof or the exclusive right to apply for a mining right in the case of a holder of a prospecting right, will lapse on the expiry of the period which is calculated from the date on which the decision to grant the right was communicated to the applicant, not calculated from the date of execution of the right.

Searching for Minerals in South Africa: Applications for Prospecting Rights

The South African mineral and petroleum sector is regulated primarily in terms of the South African Mineral and Petroleum Resources Development Act, No 28 of 2002 (MPRDA).

In terms of the MPRDA the state is the custodian of all mineral resources in South Africa and are held for the benefit of all South Africans; no person may prospect for any mineral unless that person has been granted a relevant right by the state, acting through the Minister of Mineral Resources (section 3(1) as read with 5A)”.

The MPRDA provides for two different rights which allow the holder to search for minerals. Prospecting rights allows the holder to conduct “prospecting operations”, while reconnaissance permissions allows the holder may conduct “reconnaissance operations”.

The work which is permitted under a prospecting licence is more substantial than that permitted under a reconnaissance permission. Reconnaissance permissions only allow the holder to search for minerals by geological, geophysical and photo geological surveys and by using remote sensing techniques. Prospecting rights allow the holder to disturb the surface or subsurface of the earth. The MPRDA defines prospecting as:

"intentionally searching for any mineral by means of any method:

(a) which disturbs the surface or subsurface of the earth, including 
    any portion of the earth that is under sea or under other water; or

(b) in or on any residue stockpile or residue deposit, in order to 
    establish the economic existence of any mineral and to determine 
    the extent and economic value thereof; or 

(c) in the sea or other water on land."

The conduct of any reconnaissance or prospecting without the first obtaining the required reconnaissance permissions or prospecting right constitutes an offence. On conviction a person who is found to have been in contravention of the act may be liable for payment of a fine or to imprisonment for a period not exceeding six months, or to an fine and imprisonment (section 98(a)(viii) as read with 99(2)).

It is therefore imperative that any person who intends to search for minerals in South Africa ensures that they obtain the required right.

I will briefly set out the application procedure to apply for a prospecting right. It should be noted that some of the provisions in the MPRDA currently regulating applications for prospecting rights will be amended in terms of the Mineral and Petroleum Resources Development Amendment Act, No 49 of 2008, parts of which are already in operation and parts of which will only come into operation in the future. Further substantial amendments have a also been proposed in terms of the Mineral and Petroleum Resources Amendment Bill B
15B-2013.

Care should be taken to ensure that the correct procedure which is applicable at the time of submitting the application is followed.

Procedure followed in the application for a prospecting right

A person who wishes to apply for a prospecting right in terms of the MPRDA must make payment of the non-refundable application fee and lodge an application in the prescribed manner at the offices of the regional manager in whose region the land is situated (section 16(1)).

The application for a prospecting right must be accompanied by the following documents:

  • a plan of the land to which the application relates prepared in accordance with accepted standards, which must include, inter alia, the north point, scale and the co-ordinates, location, name, number, extent and boundaries of the land (regulation 2(2) plan);
  • a full prospecting work programme, prepared in accordance with regulation 7;
  • documentary proof of the applicant’s technical ability and financial resources to comply with the prospecting work programme;
  • title deeds in respect of the land;
  • copies of the applicants identity document if the applicant is an individual or constitutional documents if the applicant is a company.

The regional manager is obliged to accept the application for consideration if the formal requirements for its lodging have been complied with and if no other person holds or has submitted an application for a prospecting right or mining right over the land for the same mineral. This requirement ensures that persons cannot obtain prospecting rights in the same area where rights have already been granted to another person for the same minerals. Nothing, however, precludes a person from submitting an application for a prospecting right in respect of a different mineral that is not included in a holder’s existing right (section 16(2)).

Within fourteen days after the acceptance of the application the regional manager must make it known that an application has been received and must call on interested parties to submit comments within thirty days of the notice. If objections are received they must be forwarded for consideration to the Regional Mining Development and Environmental Committee in order for them to consider the objections and advise the minister appropriately (section 10).

The regional manager must also within fourteen days after the acceptance of the application notify the applicant in writing that they are required to submit an environmental management plan and that they are required to notify the land owner, lawful occupier or any other affected party in writing of the application and consult with the aforesaid persons (section 16(4)).

The applicant must deliver the result of its consultations to the regional manager within thirty days (section 16(4)(b)).

Once the regional manager has received the environmental management plan and the consultation outcomes the regional manager must forward the application to the minister for the minister’s consideration (section 16(5)).

The minister is obliged to grant the prospecting right within thirty days of receiving the application from the regional manager if:

  • the applicant has the financial and technical capability to conduct the proposed prospecting optimally in accordance with the prospecting work programme;
  • the estimated expenditure is compatible with the proposed prospecting operation and duration of the prospecting work programme;
  • the prospecting will not result in undue pollution, ecological degradation or damage to the environment;
  • the applicant has the ability to comply with the provisions of the Mine Health and Safety Act, No 29 of 1996 (MHSA);
  • the applicant is not in contravention with any relevant provisions of the MPRDA; and
  • the applicant will substantially and meaningfully expand opportunities for historically disadvantaged persons to enter into and actively participate in the mineral industry (section 17(1)).

A prospecting right can be granted for an initial period not exceeding five years, and may be renewed once for a further three year period provided that a renewal application is submitted and the requirements of the act are complied with (section 17(5) and 18(4)).

A prospecting right becomes effective on the date on which the prospecting right is executed. Once the prospecting right has become effective the holder is granted various rights, including the right to enter land with their employees for the purposes of conducting their prospecting work (section 17(5)
as read with the definition of “effective date” and section 5).

Consequences of not following correct procedures

Section 96 the MPRDA provides an internal appeal procedure which may be used by any person whose rights or legitimate expectations have been materially and adversely affected by the granting of a prospecting licence. This right of appeal can be exercised at any time after a prospecting right has been granted, provided that it is exercised within thirty days of the person becoming aware of the grant of the licence (section 96(1)).

The internal appeal procedure, or subsequent court review which may be taken in terms of the Promotion of Administrative Justice Act, No 3 of 2000 (PAJA), may result in the prospecting licence being set aside if the correct procedure was not adhered to by the applicant when applying for the prospecting licence. This includes if there was a failure to conduct adequate consultations with affected persons.

In order to ensure that the grant of a prospecting right cannot be set aside on appeal or judicial review it is imperative that an applicant follows the correct procedures are complied with during the application process.

Overview of the South African Protection of Information Bill

The methods used to collect and store information and data have evolved over time.

In the past personal information was collected primarily through direct means by companies that people did business with. The collected information would be stored to enable the company to provide a service to the customer and to bill the customer after service delivery. The high cost of storing information typically meant that a company would only store information that was strictly necessary for these purposes and that the information would be stored for a limited time once it was no longer needed.

In the last two decades new technologies, including the internet and mobile devices, have dramatically changed the way in which people interact with each other and with companies, leading to an increase of the number of ways which companies can collect personal information about data subjects; a cell phone application which has access to your precise GPS coordinates, phone book and text messages; an internet website tracking its visitors; an in-store loyalty card which tracks shopping habits; an internet search engine which logs and stores each of your search queries; a social network application for your tablet computer which redirects your personal and business email to its own servers.

In many cases people are either unaware that data collection is happening or are unaware of the scope of the data collection. The falling cost to store information electronically now means that this personal information which is collected can be stored for longer periods of time, perhaps indefinitely.

Once this personal information has been collected, which could include individual’s names, gender, phone numbers, home address, email addresses, or shopping and internet browsing habits, the question has often been whether this information still belongs to the private individual or whether the information now belongs the company collecting the information? What can a company use the collected information for after collection?

In South Africa a person’s right to privacy has been entrenched in section 14 of the South African Constitution 1996, which provides that “[e]veryone has the right to privacy”, before going further to cater for specific circumstances. The South African Protection of Personal Information Bill, or POPI, which may become law soon takes further steps to entrench the right to privacy and to protect personal information which is collected and stored.

The Protection of Personal Information Bill draws on years of research and contains many broad principles which were developed and incorporated into the European Union’s Data Protection Rules. It seeks to introduce measures to ensure that personal information is protected, but aims to balance this objective against the right to access to information and the principle of free flow of information.

The bill accomplishes its objectives by codifying the rights that persons have in their own personal information and specifying eight conditions, or principles, that must be complied with by persons when collecting, storing and processing the personal information.

The Protection of Personal Information Bill may have far reaching consequences on some businesses operating in South Africa. Businesses should evaluate the information which is currently being collected to determine whether the bill will apply to the activities of the business. If the bill does apply a business will have to evaluate and determine what technical and organisational measures need to be taken to ensure that the legislation can be complied with once it is enacted.

Application of the Protection of Personal Information Bill

In terms of section 3, the Protection of Personal Information Bill applies to any activity concerning personal information which is either conducted in South Africa, or which is conducted outside South Africa by a responsible party which is domiciled (a resident) in South Africa.

The bill binds both public and private bodies, extending to any South African state department or administration, state functionary, state institution, private companies, private partnerships, sole proprietors and any other individual.

The activities relating to personal information which are regulated in terms of the bill include:

  • collection;
  • receipt;
  • recording;
  • storage;
  • retrieval;
  • dissemination; and
  • use.

The definition given to “personal information” ensures that the legislation will have a wide application.

Personal information is defined as any information relating to an identifiable, living natural person or existing juristic person, including a person’s:

  • name;
  • gender;
  • sexual orientation;
  • religion;
  • education;
  • identifying number;
  • e-mail address;
  • telephone number
  • personal opinions; and
  • correspondence.

There are, however, some exclusions, such as the exclusion of data relating to a purely personal or household activity, data which has been de-identified and data collected by a public body involving national security and the investigation or proof of criminal offences.

Rights Granted in Terms of the Protection of Personal Information Bill

The section 5 of the Protection of Personal Information Bill briefly sets out the rights granted in terms of the bill which are elaborated and expanded on in further chapters. The rights granted in terms of the bill include:

  • the right to be notified that personal information is being collected;
  • the right to be notified if there has been any security compromises and if personal information has been unlawfully accessed;
  • the right to establish if a person or entity holds any personal information and if so request access to the personal information;
  • the right to know the identity of third parties who have had access to the personal information;
  • the right to request the correction, destruction or deletion of personal information;
  • the right to object to the processing of personal information;
  • the right to submit a complaint to the Information Regulator, which is to be established in terms of the bill; and
  • the right to institute civil law suits to claim damages suffered as a result of a contravention of the bill.

Conditions for the Lawful Processing of Personal Information

Chapter 3 of the Protection of Personal Information Bill sets out eight conditions, or principles, which must be complied with when processing personal information.

Failure to comply with these conditions when collecting and processing information protected by the bill would constitute an interference with the rights of the individual in terms of section 73 and may result in civil liability in terms of section 93 for damages suffered by the individual.

Contravention of other chapters of the bill can also result in administrative penalties or a criminal conviction punishable by fines or imprisonment of up to ten years for some offences.

These conditions for the lawful processing of personal information are:

Condition 1: Accountability

The first condition provides that the responsible party, namely the public or private body which determines the purposes and means for processing personal information, must ensure that personal information is processed lawfully and that the conditions are complied with at the time when the purposes and means of data processing is determined and during the processing itself.

Condition 2: Processing Limitation

The second condition sets limits on the methods which may be used when collecting personal information and on the scope of processing the information. Focus is placed on the protection of privacy and prevention of excessive collection and processing.

This condition provides that personal information may generally only be collected directly from the individual and not from other third party sources.

It also provides that personal information may only be collected and processed if:

  • the individual has consented;
  • it is necessary to perform in terms of a contract concluded directly with the individual;
  • it protects a legitimate interest of the individual or the person collecting or processing the information; or
  • it is necessary for the proper performance of a public law duty by a public body.

Data subjects are also granted the right to object to the collection and processing of personal information, including the specific right to object to direct marketing from companies which they are not already an existing customer of.

Condition 3: Purpose Specification

The third condition sets limits on the reasons for the collection of personal information and limits the duration that the records may be retained.

This condition specifies that personal information may only be collected for specific and explicitly defined purposes and that data subjects must be informed of the purpose for collecting the information.

Once the personal information has been collected it may not be retained any longer than what is necessary for achieving the defined purpose. After the personal information is no longer required it must be either destroyed or “de-identified” in a manner which would make identification of the individual impossible either on its own or if combined with other information.

Condition 4: Further Processing Limitation

The fourth condition limits the use of personal information once collected, providing that all processing must only be in accordance with, or compatible with, the purpose for which the information was originally collected.

Condition 5: Information Quality

The fifth condition ensures that reasonable steps must be taken by the responsible person to ensure that all personal information which is collected or processed is complete, accurate, not misleading and updated where necessary.

Condition 6: Openness

The sixth condition ensures openness of records relating to the processing of personal information by requiring responsible persons who collect and process personal information to retain records of the processing operations in terms of the Promotion of Access to Information Act.

This condition also requires that data subjects are notified of their rights in terms of the bill. Steps must be taken before the actual collection of personal information to ensure that an individual is aware of:

  • what information is being collected;
  • the name and address of the responsible party collecting or processing the information;
  • the purpose of collecting the information;
  • the consequences of not providing access to the personal information; and
  • if the information is to be transferred to another country, the level of protection afforded to the information in that country.

Condition 7: Security Safeguards

The seventh condition introduces safeguards to protect the integrity and confidentiality of personal information once it has been collected.

In terms of this condition any person collecting or processing personal information must take appropriate and reasonable technical and organisational measures to ensure that personal information is not lost, damaged or unlawfully accessed or processed. This requires the responsible party to take measures to identify internal and external risks, establish and maintain safeguards and continually update procedures and safeguards in response to new risks or deficiencies.

Data subjects must also be informed of any security breaches as soon as reasonably possible.

Condition 8: Data Subject Participation

The final condition applicable to the lawful processing of personal information provides data subjects with the right to participate in the collection and processing of their personal information.

This condition provides data subjects with the right to:

  • request whether or not a person is in possession of personal information belonging to the data subject;
  • request a record of the personal information held;
  • request information regarding all third parties who have had access to the personal information;
  • request the correction or deletion of inaccurate personal information; and
  • request the deletion or destruction of personal information.

How Existing Human Rights Law Applies to Modern Digital Surveillance

A group of worldwide privacy organizations and advocates have adopted and released a document entitled “The International Principles on the Application of Human Rights to Communications surveillance“.

The document sets out how existing international human rights laws applies in the digital environment and details thirteen principles that must be adhered to by any government in order to comply with current international law.

Importantly, the document addresses the distinction between collection of the content of a communication and the collection of the “communications metadata”, and concludes that the distinction between the two are no longer appropriate; metadata and other non-content data deserves equal protection because it may reveal even more about an individual than the content of the communication itself.

The thirteen principles, based on current international law, outlined in the document are summarized below.

Legality

Any limitation to the right of privacy must be prescribed by a publicly available legislative act, and subject to periodic review.

Legitimate aim

Laws should only permit surveillance by specified state authorities.

Any surveillance must be conducted to achieve a legitimate aim that corresponds to a predominantly important legal interest that is necessary in a democratic society.

Necessity

Surveillance should not be widespread, but must be restricted only to what is necessary to achieve the legitimate aim.

Surveillance should only be conducted when it is the only method to achieve the legitimate aim, or is the method that is least likely to infringe on the persons human rights.

Adequacy

The surveillance must be able to fulfil the legitimate aim.
Proportionality

Before any state engages in surveillance for the purposes of a criminal investigation it must establish before an independent court that:

  • there is a high degree of probability that a serious crime has been or will be committed;
  • evidence of that crime will be obtained by the surveillance;
  • other less invasive techniques have been exhausted;
  • the information gathered will be limited to that which is relevant to the alleged crime; and
  • the information gathered will only be accessed by the specified authority and used only for the purposes for which permission was granted.

If the surveillance will not put the person at risk of criminal prosecution the state must establish before an independent court that:

  • less invasive investigative techniques have been considered;
  • the information accessed will be confined to what is reasonably relevant and any excess information will be destroyed or returned; and
  • the information gathered will only be accessed by the specified authority and used only for the purposes for which permission was granted.

Competent judicial authority

All determinations relating to surveillance should be made by a competent, impartial and independent court which is separate from the authority conducting the surveillance.

Due process

In the determination of human rights everyone is entitled to a fair and public hearing. The mere risk of flight or destruction of evidence shall never be considered as sufficient to justify retroactive authorization.
User Notification

Users must be notified of a decision authorizing surveillance to enable them to appeal the decision. Delay in notification is justifiable if:

notification would would seriously jeopardize the purpose of the surveillance; or
authorization to delay is granted by the judicial authority; and
the individual is notified within a reasonably practical time period.

Transparency

States must be transparent about the use and scope of surveillance techniques used. States should publish transparency reports detailing the type and nature of surveillance, including the number of surveillance requests approved or rejected, in order for individuals to fully comprehend the scope, nature and application of the laws permitting surveillance.

Public oversight

Independent oversight mechanisms, which has access to all potentially relevant state information including secret and classified information, must be established. This is to ensure that the state is acting within its lawful authority.

Integrity of communications and systems

States should not compel service providers or hardware or software providers to build in surveillance capabilities into their systems; compromising security for the state always compromises general security which would make these systems more vulnerable to attack by unauthorized third parties.

Service providers should not be compelled to collect information purely for state surveillance purposes.

Individuals have the right to express themselves anonymously, and states should not require service providers to identify their users as a precondition
for providing services.

Safeguards for international cooperation

When concluding multinational mutual legal assistance treaties, states must ensure that when the laws of more than one state applies to the communication then the law which provides the greatest protection to the individual is applied. This prevents states from circumventing their own domestic legal restrictions.

Safeguards against illegitimate access

Legislation criminalizing illegal surveillance by public and private persons, and providing for significant criminal and civil penalties if contravened, must be enacted.

Legal protection must be provided to whistle blowers

Information obtained in contravention of the principles must be inadmissible as evidence in any proceedings.

Private Companies, Share Transactions and Regulated Affected Transactions

Are you unknowingly a director or shareholder of a regulated private company? If so, what effect does this have on transactions involving the company’s shares?

The Companies Act, No 71 of 2008 (the new Companies Act) expanded the circumstances in which a private company may be regarded as a regulated company, having the effect that certain provisions of the new Companies Act and the takeover regulations, which would otherwise not be applicable to a private company, are unknowingly applicable to numerous private companies in South Africa. The application of these provisions may have adverse and unforeseen consequences in transactions involving the company’s shares.

In short, a shareholder increasing their shareholding in a regulated company is required to notify the company with each multiple of five percent of the shareholding that it acquires, is required to make a mandatory offer to purchase all remaining shares once its shareholding crosses the prescribed threshold, and may acquire the right to force minorities to sell their shares.

Having a share transaction reversed because the regulatory procedure was not followed, being unknowingly obliged to make a mandatory offer to all shareholders to acquire their shares, or unknowingly becoming a minority shareholder who can be squeezed out of a company, are situations which shareholders may best be advised to avoid. These risks can be amplified in long term share acquisition transactions, such as joint ventures which make use of shareholder earn-in provisions.

Regulated private companies in terms of the Companies Act

A private company becomes a regulated company in terms of the new Companies Act if the company expressly elects to be regarded as a regulated company in the company’s memorandum of incorporation, alternatively, if more than ten percent of the company’s issued securities have been transferred within the previous twenty four months other than by transfer between related or inter related persons.

Therefore, in the event that share transactions have taken place within the previous twenty four months a private company may potentially be classified as a regulated company. Once regarded as a regulated company the takeover regulations becomes applicable and the takeover regulation panel (TRP) becomes responsible for regulating all affected transactions, including any offer to enter into an affected transaction.

Share transactions as affected transactions

The definition of affected transactions insofar as it relates to share transactions include compulsory disclosures on the acquisition of shares amounting to five percent, ten percent, fifteen percent or any further multiple of five percent of the company’s issued shares, mandatory offers requiring any shareholder who acquires enough shares to take its shareholding above thirty five percent of the shares in the company to make an offer to the remaining shareholders to purchase their shares, and compulsory acquisition and squeeze out of minority shareholders.

Affected transactions are further governed by the takeover regulations and regulated by the TRP, meaning that the parties cannot give effect to the share transaction unless the procedures set out in the takeover regulations have been complied with and the TRP has either issued a compliance certificate or granted an exemption for the transaction.

The compulsory disclosure provisions apply to any person who sells or purchases shares in a regulated company and as a result of that acquisition the person holds a beneficial interest amounting to five percent, ten percent, fifteen percent or any further multiple of five percent. The seller or purchaser must notify the company within three business days after the disposal or acquisition of the shares. Once the company has received the disclosure notice the company must file the notice with the TRP.

In addition to the compulsory disclosures a fundamental provision within the new Companies Act is the provision requiring a mandatory offer to all shareholders to acquire their shares in a company if a person acquires shares in a regulated company and as a result of that acquisition the persons shareholding increases from an amount of less than thirty five percent to an amount of thirty five percent or more.

Once this threshold is reached the shareholder is required to give notice to the remaining shareholders offering to acquire any remaining shares and must comply with the takeover regulations.

The mandatory offer provisions are designed to protect minority shareholders, however, the squeeze out provisions may work to the detriment of minority shareholders.

In terms of the squeeze out provisions minorities holding less than ten percent of the issued share capital of a company may be forced to sell their shareholding, or “squeezed out”, should an offer for the acquisition of the entire class of shares of a regulated company be made and that that offer has been accepted by holders of at least ninety percent of that class of securities.

These provisions allow an offeror to acquire the shares of a minority holding less than ten percent of the issued share capital on the same terms and conditions as the shareholders who had accepted the original offer.

A word of caution in share transactions involving private companies

It becomes imperative that before shares in a private company are sold or purchased that it is determined that the private company has not elected to be a regulated company in its memorandum of incorporation and that no more than ten percent of the shares in the company have been transferred in the previous twenty four months. If so the company may be classified as a regulated company, requiring compulsory disclosures to be made with each five percent of the shares acquired, and once the threshold of thirty five percent shareholding is reached requiring a mandatory offer to acquire the remaining shares.

Caution must be taken to ensure that share transactions are structured in such a way to account for the company being classified as a regulated company.

In long term share acquisition transactions, such as joint ventures which make use of shareholder earn-in provisions, care must be taken in the drafting of the applicable contracts and the transaction should be structured to ensure that the intentions of the parties are not eroded should the company become a regulated company after the conclusion of the contracts and that both the rights of the acquiring shareholder is protected with each share tranche acquired, as well as the rights of minorities which may hold less than ten percent of the shares after the implementation of the transaction.

Notes on the Jurisdiction of UK Courts under the Brussels I Regulation

Note: Much of what is laid out below has been superseded by later events. In particular:

  • the Brussels I regulation (44/2001) has been replaced (recast) by regulation 1215/2012, that came into effect from 10 January 2015;
  • the interpretation of article 60, and the meaning of “central administration” was directly considered subsequent cases, including:
    • Young v Anglo American South Africa Limited and Others [2014] EWCA Civ 1130; and
    • Vava and Others v Anglo American South Africa Limited and Others  [2013] EWHC 2131 (QB).

I’m leaving the rest of this note as is, as a summary of some of the applicable cases leading up to these developments.


When will a court in the United Kingdom hear a case where the action or liability didn’t arise in the UK?

The issue of legal jurisdiction is largely determined by the Counsel Regulation (“EC”) No 44/2001 of 22 December 2000, on jurisdiction and the recognition and enforcement of judgments in civil and commercial matters, (“Brussels I”).

Jurisdiction as Determined in terms of the Brussels I Regulation

The scope of Brussels I is largely defined in articles 1, 2, 3 and 4, as read with article 59 and 60.

Article 1 of the regulation states:

1) This regulation shall apply in all civil and commercial matters whatever the nature of the court or tribunal.  It shall not extend, in particular, to revenue, customs or administrative matters.

2) The regulation shall not apply to:

a) the status or legal capacity of natural persons, rights and property arising out of a matrimonial relationship, rules and succession;

b) bankruptcy, proceedings relating to the winding up of insolvent companies or other legal persons, judicial arrangements, compositions and analogous proceedings;

c) social securities;

d) arbitration.

To determine if a court has jurisdiction over a foreign (peregrinus) company, article 2 and article 60 must be applied. These articles read:

2.1   Subject to this regulation, persons domiciled in a Member State shall, whatever their nationality, be sued in the courts of that members state.

2.2   Persons who are not nationals of the Members State in which they are domiciled, shall be governed by the rules of jurisdiction applicable to nationals of that state.

60.1   For the purposes of this regulation, a company… is domiciled at the place where it has its:

a) statutory seat; or

b) central administration; or

c) principal place of business …

In terms of these provisions, the decisive consideration regarding jurisdiction in the courts of a member of the EU, such as the UK, is whether the defendant is domiciled in the member state irrespective of the nationality of the parties to the law suit and irrespective of the domicile of the plaintiff.

It is therefore critical to determine the legal definition of “domicile” as interpreted by the UK Courts.

Definition of “central administration” and “principle place of business”

A UK court will have jurisdiction over a company if it is domiciled in the UK; if the company has its statutory seat, central administration or principle place of business in the UK.

The definition of central administration and principle place of business has received considerable judicial consideration within the UK, and is best illustrated with reference to some of the applicable decisions.

The Rewia decision

In the case of the Rewia [1991] 2 Lloyds Rep 325 (“Rewia”) the court considered the meaning of the term “the principle place of business” of a corporation. The defendant contested jurisdiction and argued that they were domiciled within Germany and not in the UK.

It was common cause that the defendant was domiciled in West Germany because the company’s central management and control existed there.  The court a quo came to that conclusion, which was not subject to appeal, on account of the following facts:

  • all the directors were German and resident in West Germany;
  • the shares in the Defendant were all beneficially owned or controlled by German companies;
  • major policy decisions were made in Germany;
  • meetings of the directors were held in Germany; and
  • the management agreement concluded between the defendant and the managing company of the vessel, which operated from Hong Kong reserved major policy decisions for the board of directors of the defendant.

A matter to be decided on appeal was the location of the defendant’s principle place of business, and in particular, if the principle place of business was located in Hong Kong where the management company carried out the day to day management, or in West Germany.

Leggatt LJ cited various precedents with approval. The decision in De Beers Consolidated Mines Limited v Howe [1906] AC 455 stated that “while it is accepted that for the purposes of income tax a company resides where its real business is carried on, the true rule would be where the central management and control of the company actually abides”.

In Daimler Co. v Continental Tyre and Rubber (Great Britain) [1916] 2 AC 307, it was held that the test of residence was “the place where the real business centre from which the governing and directing minds of the company operated, regulating and controlling its important affairs”.

Similarly, in the case of Polzeath [1916] P241 the court had to decide if a company’s principle place of business was in the UK.  The court considered the shareholding and directors of the company, the company’s financial control and banking, the charging and insurance of the vessel, as well as the day to day management of the company, all which were conducted in England. The court, however, held that the control and management of the company was in Hamburg. It was held:

…in considering what is the principle place of business of the company, one has to consider the centre from which instructions are given, and from which control is exercised on behalf of the company over the employees of the business of the company, and where control is exercised, and the centre from which the company is managed without any further control, except such control as every company or the directors of the company which they represent, the shareholders of the company in general meetings.

The court held that irrespective of the fact that the manager had exercised full control over the day to day management of the company, he had always acted under the direction of the company chairman located in Hamburg.

In determining the principle place of business in the Rewia case, the court stated that the principle place of business does not mean “main”. The court held that in this context, it means “chief” or “most important”. The principle place of business is not necessarily the place where most of the business is carried out. It was stated:

… the principle place of business was not necessarily the place where most of the business was carried out; there was nothing uncommercial or inapposite about the conclusion that the principle place of business was in Hamburg or the company registered in Liberia owning a ship, the means of which will ultimately be remitted to Germany, and about which the most important decisions would be taken in Germany; although in practice, [the management company] had a free hand in the day to day management in the vessel from Hong Kong. All that they did was subject to the control of the directors in Hamburg; that was the centre from which instructions were given when necessary and ultimate control exercised; the reference to “principle place” did not require identification of a particular building…

Douglas King v Crown Energy Trading A.G

In the case of Douglas King v Crown Energy Trading A.G and Another [2003] EWHC 163 (COMM) (“Crown Energy”) the court considered the definition of both “central administration” and “principle place of business”.

The company had two offices, in London and Zug. The court considered various factors to determine where the company’s place of central administration and principle place of business was. The factors included the size of the London office, which was larger than any of the other offices operated by the company, and the fact that the principle executive and all operational staff were employed in London, including the chairman, chief executive officer and chief operating officer and the head of each of the firms main departments.

The court didn’t place any emphasis on the location at which the board members met or where resolutions were tabled and passed for the purposes of determining the location of the company’s central administration or principle place of business. The court held that:

Administration is clearly an aspect of the conduct of business. Administration ensures that all runs smoothly; moneys got in, debts are paid, leases and transport are arranged, personnel are looked after. But what of central administration?…The larger the organisation, the easier it should be to discern a division of responsibilities. The location of the company’s secretary’s office in a major organisation might provide a good clue…I think that in this case a simple listing of those with important responsibilities…will be enough to show where the central administration is to be found.  Also it seems to me that the same approach shows where one may find the company’s principle place of business.

Based on the fact that ultimate control rested with the board members located in the company’s London office, the court held that the central administration and principle place of business was located in London, and that the court therefore had jurisdiction.

Ministry of Defence and Support of the Armed Forces for the Islamic Republic of Iran v Faz Aviation Limited

In the case of Ministry of Defence and Support of the Armed Forces for the Islamic Republic of Iran v Faz Aviation Limited ([2007] EWHC 1042 (COMM) (“Faz”) the court considered the meaning of “the principle place of business” of a company.

The court applied the judgment of the Rewia case, and stated that the Rewia decision supports a number of obvious propositions, namely:

(i)   the central administration and principle place of business of a company may be, and I would add, frequently will be, in the same country;

(ii) the focus, in matters of jurisdiction, is on the country rather any one particular location;

(iii) the principle place of business (if there is one) is likely to be the place where the corporate authority is to be found (shareholders and directors), and it is to be the place there the company is controlled and managed;

(iv) the place where the day to day activities of the company are carried out may not be the principle place of business if those activities are subject to the control of senior management located elsewhere.

The company gave evidence that it had at all times been emphasised that, for UK tax reasons, all decisions relating to its business must be taken outside the UK. Evidence was also presented that all decisions taken by Faz were made under the direct supervision and with the express authority of a certain shareholder located in Cyprus.

The court held that notwithstanding that the day to day management of the company was conducted in England, in a real sense the business of the company was controlled largely from Cyprus.

Further, the court held, based on facts and evidence, that no business was administered from London. The court therefore held that the court did not have jurisdiction in the matter.

Alberta Inc V Katanga Mining Limited

In the case of Alberta Inc v Katanga Mining Limited [2008] EWHC 2679 (COMM) the court considered the definition of “central administration”.

The company was incorporated in Bermuda and resident in Canada for tax purposes.  The company had ten directors, three based in London. The key decision making for the company’s business took place by way of board meetings which were held predominantly in Canada with only two of the thirty two board meetings taking place within England.

The company also had a UK service company that provided consultancy services to the entire group, which included not only the company but also the its mining operations carried on by its subsidiaries in the Democratic Republic of Congo (“DRC”).

The court held that the central administration of the company was located within England and that the court held jurisdiction. The court stated:

Whilst it can plausibly be said that [the Defendant] has a real connection with Canada, to my mind the connection with England is much more real. It is where the entirety of the administration takes place and where all known management resides – the sole executive director, the president, the chief executive officer, the senior vice president and the chief financial officer, albeit that it is only two people. London must be the centre from which management instructions are given when necessary. Whilst key decisions may be made in board meetings, co-ordinated from Canada and sometimes taking place in Canada, everyone active on [the Defendants] behalf operates in London.

Central administration and principle place of business may well and will frequently be found in the same country… but that is not always so. Although I am not attracted to it, there may be a case for saying that the principle place of business is here in Canada because that is where the corporate authority ultimately resides, even if only for the most part by reason of a conference call being facilitated through a Canadian telephone connection. I cannot, however, conclude that central administration is to be found in Canada. No administration is found in Canada, and it is not shown that the day to day activities in London are subject to the control of senior management located elsewhere…One approach to central administration in the Regulation may be to examine where those who have the serious responsibilities in the company have their place of work, and this may also indicate the principle place of business. I agree that this is a helpful approach…I find that the central administration is here in London. I do not need to decide where is the principle place of business…

Distinction Between “central administration” and “principle place of business”

A company’s principle place of business is found to be in a location where instructions to the company are given, and where ultimate control of the business is exercised, without any further control. Emphasis is placed on the persons or entities controlling the affairs of the company, which may include shareholders,  and not on the location where the board of directors of the company are located, where board decisions are formally taken, or where the day to day activities and/or management of the company occurs.

The place where the board of directors resides, and/or holds office will be considered when determining the location of a company’s central administration.

It can therefore be said that the principle place of business of a company is the location from which the company is controlled and policy decided, while central administration is the location from which the policy is executed.

Shadow directors, and “control” of a company

If it is found that a peregrinus company is controlled from the UK, the UK courts will have jurisdiction over a matter instituted.

To determine ultimate control of a company, and where such control vests, it is useful to examine “directors” as well as “shadow directors”  within the UK law as well as the South African position. While these definitions and provisions may not be the only way of determining control within a company, they serve a useful purpose for the purposes of this discussion, because the presence of a shadow director in the UK who may have control over a peregrinus company would mean that the UK courts may have jurisdiction.

A shadow director is defined in section 251(1) of the UK Companies Act, 2006 (“UK Companies Act”) as “a person in accordance with whose directions or instructions the directors of [a] company are accustomed to act”.

Section 251(2) states that “a person shall not be considered a shadow director by reason only that the directors act on advice given by him in a professional capacity.”

Further, section 251(3) qualifies section 251(1) by excluding a body corporate from being regarded as a shadow director for the purposes of general duties of directors, transactions requiring members approval and contract/s  with a sole member who is also a director from falling within the meaning of “shadow director”, even if a subsidiary is accustomed to act in accordance with a body corporate’s directions or instructions.

The pre-eminent English case in respect of shadow directors is that of Secretary of State for Trade and Industry v Deverell [2001] Ch 34. Morrit LJ provides a comprehensive explanation of the requirements for a shadow director:

  • the purpose of the legislation is to identify those, other than professional advisors, with real influence in the corporate affairs of the company;
  • it is not necessary that such influence should be exercised over the whole field of the company’s corporate activities;
  • the concepts of “direction” and “instruction” do not exclude the concept of “advice” for all three share the common feature of “guidance”;
  • it is not necessary to show that in the face of “directions” or “instructions” from the alleged shadow director that the directors cast themselves in a sub-servient role or surrendered their discretion, it is only necessary to prove that the communication was given and that the directors were accustomed to act on such directions; there must be a pattern of compliance;
  • instructions need not extend over all or most of the corporate activities of the company, nor is it necessary to demonstrate a degree of compulsion in excess of that implicit in the fact that the board are accustomed to act in accordance with them.

Morrit LJ adds that the director needs not have to lurk in the shadows and can openly direct the company.  An example which Morrit LJ believes is likely to qualify as a shadow director is:

a person resident abroad who owns all the shares in the company but chooses to operate it through a local board of directors. From time to time, the owner to the knowledge of all to whom it may be of concern, gives directions to the local board what to do but takes no part in the management of the company himself.

The South African Companies Act, No 71 of 2008 (“SA Companies Act”) does not include a definition of “shadow director”.  It has, however, been submitted that the definition of a directorin section 1 of the SA Companies Act is wide enough to include shadow directors because the definition is not limited to persons who are formally appointed as directors. The wide, open ended definition ensures that most persons who have control over the management of companies fall within the ambit of the definition.

Despite that the South African legislation does not expressly provide for addressing the position of shadow directors, the principle has been addressed judicially. In the case of Robinson v Randfontein EST GM Co Limited 1921 AD 168, the court was tasked to decide the matter wherein the directors of a subsidiary company were accustomed to act in accordance with the wishes of the chairman of the holding company.

In this case, the directors of the subsidiary company administered the separate mining activities of the subsidiary companies. The directors denied the allegation that they did not use their own discretion, claiming that only matters of finance and policy were dictated by Robinson, the chairman of the holding company. The directors testified that they left all decisions on policy and finances to Robinson because he was a respected businessman and they trusted his judgment.

The court did not decide the matter based on the fact that Robinson was a shadow director, but found that Robinson had an implied mandate, alternatively that he put himself in a position of trust and owed the same fiduciary duties as a director towards the subsidiary companies. It has been stated that the decision in the Robinson case is authority that the South African Law recognises shadow directors, and that shadow directors owes the company the same fiduciary duties as any other director.

With regard to the holding company and subsidiary company relationship, it has been held in terms of the UK law in Re Hydrodam (Corby) Limited [1994] 2 BCLC 180 (CHD) that a holding company can be shadow directors of their subsidiaries but only if they act outside the scope of activities of a shareholder.

Therefore, where directors of a holding company, or the holding company itself, partakes in the activities of a subsidiary company outside of general meetings of shareholders, the holding company, or the directors of the holding company, may be found to be shadow directors of the subsidiary company.

The Companies Act 2008 and Pre-Existing Shareholders Agreements

On 1 May 2013 will your company’s shareholders agreement be worth the paper that it is written on, as after this date most of what is contained in current shareholders agreements could automatically be rendered void.

This is an important corporate law consideration which must be addressed by all South African companies and their shareholders which rely on shareholders agreements concluded prior to the commencement of the Companies Act, No 71 of 2008 (the new Companies Act).

Historical use of shareholders agreements

In terms of the previous Companies Act, No 61 of 1973 (old Companies Act) a company’s constitutional documents consisted of its memorandum of association and articles of association. In addition to these statutory documents, shareholders often concluded an additional shareholders agreement to regulate the internal affairs of the company.

A shareholders agreement typically provided that in the event of any conflict between the company’s articles of association and the shareholders agreement, the shareholders agreement would be the document that takes precedence. Shareholders therefore regularly used shareholders agreements to regulate important aspects of the company without the need to amend its articles of association and, by doing so, make the provisions public.

Shareholders agreements under the new Companies Act

The new Companies Act has, however, dramatically changed the possible scope and effectiveness of not only the new shareholders agreements concluded in terms of the new Companies Act, but also shareholders agreements which were concluded prior to the new Companies Act’s commencement date on 1 May 2011.

In terms of the new Companies Act, all shareholders agreements must be consistent not only with the provisions of the act itself, but also with companies constitutional documents, namely the memorandum of incorporation. Should there be any inconsistency between the shareholders agreement and a provision of the new Companies Act or memorandum of incorporation, the provision contained within the shareholders agreement shall be void.

A provision in a shareholders agreement which provides that the shareholders agreement will take precedence over the act or memorandum of incorporation shall itself be void and shall not provide any assistance to the shareholders.

Transitional period

Companies which were incorporated under the old Companies Act and which had pre-existing shareholders agreements are, however, provided with a two year transitional period which ends of 30 April 2013.

During the transitional period, pre-existing companies may update their constitutional documents to comply with the provisions of the new Companies Act, and during such time should a shareholders agreement conflict with the provisions of the new Companies Act, or the company’s articles of association, the provisions of the shareholders agreement shall take precedence.

On 1 May 2013, any provision in a pre-existing shareholders agreement which directly conflicts with the new Companies Act or the company’s memorandum of incorporation will be void.

A company which takes no steps to align its current articles of association and shareholders agreement with the provision of the new Companies Act may find itself in a situation where most, if not all, provisions contained within the shareholders agreement are void as they conflict with the company’s articles of association which is automatically deemed to be its new memorandum of incorporation for the purposes of the new Companies Act.

Important provisions which are ordinarily contained within the shareholders agreement which may be void include provisions restricting or allowing the alteration or conversion of share capital, provisions regulating company meetings, provisions granting minority shareholders or specified shareholders rights to appoint directors to the company’s board, minority protection provisions including provisions which limit the board of directors powers, and provisions regulating borrowing powers and the determination and payment of dividends to shareholders.

Where to from here?

What can be done to ensure that essential provisions contained within a shareholders’ agreement are not rendered void?

It will be necessary to determine where conflicts currently exist between the new Companies Act, articles of association and shareholders agreement. Once conflicts have been identified, it will be necessary to determine which matters are now classified as alterable or non-alterable provisions in terms of the Companies Act.

Should any of these matters be classified as alterable or non-alterable provisions within the new Companies Act, it will not be possible for the shareholders to regulate these matters in a shareholders agreement, as non-alterable provisions cannot be altered at all, and alterable provisions can only be altered in the company’s memorandum of incorporation and not in a shareholders agreement.

Once this analysis has been done it will then be necessary to update the company’s memorandum of incorporation to deal with all alterable provisions which can only be altered in the memorandum of incorporation, and then draft an amended shareholders agreement relating to the remaining company matters.