The Commercial Case Law Index is a collection of judgments from African countries on topics relating to commercial legal practice. The collection aims to provide a snapshot of commercial legal practice in a country, rather than present solely traditionally "reportable" cases. The index currently covers 400 judgments from Uganda, Tanzania, Nigeria, Ghana and South Africa.
Get started on finding judgments that are relevant to you by browsing the topic list on the left of the screen. Click the arrows next to the topic names to reveal a detailed list of sub-topics. Most judgments are accompanied by a short summary written by subject-matter expert postgraduate students from the University of Cape Town.
This was a dispute about interpretation of an employment contract. An employee of a church was entitled by virtue of that contract to long service leave, calculated with reference to his ‘basic salary’. The issue was to determine the meaning and scope of the words ‘basic salary’.
The Supreme Court of Justice held that while the lower courts correctly identified this issue, they had incorrectly found that ‘basic salary’ meant the total annual salary that the plaintiff was drawing at the time. The lower courts did not give consideration to the meaning and effect of the term ‘basic salary’ in the ‘conditions of service’ document, which defined ‘basic salary’ as a lower baseline salary amount.
The court held that in dealing with the interpretation of contracts the literal and plain meaning rule must always be applied within the context of the deed being construed and not standing by itself alone. Additionally, the court has a duty to give effect to the intentions of the parties. This being an employment contract, the proper approach of interpretation is to construe the words within the context of the whole document having in mind the scope and object of the document. Interpretations which would ‘render the meaning absurd, incongruous, unreasonable or unintelligible, or that will create hardship or inconvenience’ should be rejected.
The court held that in the context of the document as a whole, and it would be ‘unreasonable and absurd’ to conclude that the intention was to bind the defendant to a meaning of ‘basic salary’ that encompassed the plaintiff’s actual annual salary.
The appeal succeeded in part; the judgments of the High Court and Court of Appeal were set aside.
This case considered whether employees who were claiming compensation for loss of employment were ‘permanent employees’ in terms of an employment contract. The case additionally concerns whether the Court of Appeal had misdirected itself with regards to the weight of evidence.
The plaintiffs contended that they were employed by the respondent as permanent employees in terms of an employment contract. The respondent subsequently went into liquidation and the plaintiffs claimed for loss of compensation.
The court held that for a plaintiff to be entitled to benefits as an ex-employee, they should spell out clearly the terms of their employment as contained in their contract of employment and then prove their entitlements under those terms. The plaintiffs assume the burden of persuasion and producing evidence, however, it was clear that they were unable to produce a written agreement which spells out their terms of employment. The court found that any contract of employment for more than six months which was not in writing was unenforceable.
The plaintiffs had been employed for 10 and 12 years respectively, but failed to obtain letters of appointment. It became apparent that they were only employed for the duration that they were engaged on a particular voyage.
The court found that to be a permanent employee one would need to prove employment through the use of a contract of employment, which was in writing and could be used as evidence to illustrate the terms thereof. In this case, the plaintiffs were only employees when the respondents required their services. Furthermore, the court held that the Court of Appeal had not misdirected itself with regards to the weight of evidence as the plaintiff failed to properly prove their claim.
This case presented the first instance where South African labour courts were called to determine the relationship between a garden leave clause and a post termination restraint of trade clause where a contract of employment contained both.
The court considered whether the applicant had waived its right to enforce the notice period by terminating the first respondent’s employment with immediate effect and the reasonableness of the duration restraining the commercial activity of the first respondent in the garden leave clause and/or the post termination restraint clause.
The court held that the applicant was entitled to enforce the period of the garden leave and the post termination restraint of trade clause. The court adopted the rule that a garden rule provision should be taken into account when determining the reasonableness of the restraint duration. The court also took into account the seniority of the first respondent that exposed him to confidential knowledge of the applicant’s business and held that the cumulative restraint period of 12 months was reasonable.
Accordingly, the court granted the application and declared that the first respondent’s contract of employment terminated on 30 June 2016 and that he was restrained from disclosing any confidential information or engaging in any commercial activities with competitors until 31 December 2016.