The Environmental Case Law Index is a collection of judgments from 10 African countries on topics relating to environmental law, both substantive and procedural. The collection focuses on cases where an environmental interest interacts with governmental or private interests.
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-area expert postgraduate students from the University of Cape Town.
Read also JIFA's Environmental Country Reports for SADC
This matter dealt with an appeal against a decision of the High Court dismissing the appellant’s claim for a declaration of rights over land and the setting aside of a directive made by the minister. The appellant had contended in the lower court that the act was only applicable to agricultural land and was not intended to relate to land within a proclaimed township.
The main issues for the court’s consideration were whether the land in question fell within the scope of the minister’s powers under the act and whether these powers were lawfully exercised.
The court established that the wording of the act was clear, and that the extent of the minister’s power did not cover non-agricultural land. The court concluded that the decision of the minister should have been set aside. The court stated further that the powers under s 31A of the Environment Conservation Act 73 of 1989 were not to be applied without the procedure set out in the act. Therefore, in the absence of compliance with these procedures, the minister’s decision was invalid. Accordingly, the court upheld the appeal with costs to the appellant.
Jafta JA in a dissenting judgment held that the procedure set out in the act dealt mainly with procedural fairness and was not a prerequisite for the exercise of the minister’s powers. He concluded that the procedural aspects if applied in this context would defeat the purpose of the powers under s 31A of the act, to protect the environment.
The matter dealt with an appeal against the decision of the High Court to remit the decision of a board, regarding the appellant’s submission to build below the control flood line, back to that board for determination.
The main issues for consideration were: whether the lower court had set aside the initial decision of the board; whether the court should have determined the matter on the merits; and whether the board had authority to grant permission or not, without any proof of pollution.
The appellant had argued that the matter should not have been remitted back to the board but determined on its merits and further that the court should have ordered costs to the appellant, as the decision was made in its favour.
The court established that it was clear from a reading of the judgment in its entirety that the intention of the lower court had been to set aside the decision of the board. The court held further that the lower court was right in refusing to determine the matter when the evidence revealed that a decision was taken by the Chief Executive Officer alone and not the board. The court concluded that since no decision had been taken by the board as required, it would have to determine whether permission should be granted and whether there was any danger of pollution.
Accordingly, the court dismissed the appeal but ordered the first respondent to bear the appellant’s costs in the matter before the lower court.
The matter dealt with an appeal against the decision of the High Court to set aside a magistrate’s grant of an interdict to the appellant. The High Court held that the magistrate had no jurisdiction to grant the interdict in exercise of its powers under s 30(1) of the Magistrates’ Courts Act 32 of 1944 because s 29(1)(g) sets a monetary limit on the value of the matter in dispute.
The court considered whether the jurisdiction of the magistrate was excluded due to the limit on the monetary value of the matter in dispute in accordance with the act.
The court established that the matter before the magistrate court related not to the value of the business but to the unlawful activities that the appellant claimed amounted to nuisance. The court found that the respondents had not complied with the requirements for the use of their land including the submission of an environmental and health assessment report and that their activities affected the appellant adversely. The court held that the respondent had not proved that the cost of abating the nuisance was beyond the jurisdiction of the magistrate.
The court concluded that in the circumstances, the magistrate had the jurisdiction to grant an interdict. In conclusion, the court set aside the order of the High Court and replaced it with an order that the appeal to that court be dismissed with costs.
Accordingly, the court upheld the appeal with costs and ordered that the decision of the magistrate be reinstated.
The matter dealt with an appeal against the decision of the High Court to issue an interdict restraining the appellant, from utilising a coal boiler at its factory and the removal of the boiler within 30 days. The respondent had claimed in the lower court that the appellant had erected a coal fired boiler on the property in contravention of regulation 3 of its Smoke Control regulations under s 18 of the Atmospheric Pollution Prevention Act 45 of 1965.
The court considered whether the decision of the High Court to restrain the appellant from using the boiler and the subsequent order for its removal was lawful. The court found that the appellant had installed the boiler without submitting plans or specifications to the respondent as required by the regulations. However, the court established that upon giving the appellant the opportunity to submit its plans, the respondent rejected the appellant’s application on account of the type of boiler that the appellant sought to erect and not smoke emissions as envisaged by s 15(1) of the act. The Court applied the rule in Oudekraal Estates (Pty) Ltd v City of Cape Town 2004 (6) SA 222 (SCA) and stated that the facts of this case did not fall within the scope of that decision.
The court held that the respondent did not stay within the boundaries of the act and constraints of the Constitution and this was unlawful. Accordingly, the court upheld the appeal with costs.
The court considered an appeal, concerning a dispute between two companies over the right to mine salt in the Northern Cape.
The high court initially dismissed the appellant’s counter-application in which it sought to review and set aside the Minster's approval of the 1st respondent’s application for a mining permit over the disputed property.
The question on appeal was whether the high court was entitled to refuse to review and set aside the Minister's approval of the 1st respondent’s application without considering whether the 1st respondent had consulted with the appellant, as an 'interested and affected party' as contemplated in the Mineral and Petroleum Resources Development Act 28 of 2002.
The court found that the answer to the question was dependent on the legal basis that the appellant relied on for its occupancy of the property. As the appellant’s occupation of the property was premised on the validity of a permit, which the high court found to be a forgery and thus invalid, the question arose as to whether the appellant had a right to be consulted even though the permit was invalid.
The court, after careful consideration of the requirements set out in the Act, held that a person that relies on an illegally issued permit to occupy land has no right to be consulted by an applicant for a mining right as contemplated in the Act because they do not qualify as an 'interested and affected party'.
The court considered an appeal against a judgment of the Gauteng Local Division where the appellants refusal to supply information to the respondent about their industrial activities with possible environmental impacts, was declared invalid and set aside.
Following two requests by the respondent, the appellant refused to give them any information based on a failure to meet the threshold requirements of s 50(1)(a), read with s 53 of the Promotion of Access to Information Act 2 of 2000. Further, that their reliance on s 24 of the Constitution was too broad and in conflict with the principle of subsidiarity. I.e. where legislation giving effect to constitutional rights exists, the provisions of the legislation is where the rights should be located.
The court found that the word ‘required’ in s 50(1)(a) of PAIA should be construed as ‘reasonably required’ in the prevailing circumstances for the exercise or protection of the rights by the requestor. Thus, insofar as the environment is concerned, collaborative governance was a virtue.
The court took into consideration the nature of the appellant’s operations and its consequences. The appellant had a reputation for being a major polluter in the areas in which it conducted operations.
The court found that the information was required to make a decision on future actions and could find no error in the court’s reasoning that led it to an order compelling the appellant to provide the requested information and that there is no room for secrecy.
The court considered an appeal against a judgment dismissing the appellant’s exception.
The appellant was a property development company and sought to develop property in low-lying areas adjacent to the Disa river. In order to develop these properties the appellant began to lift these properties to four meters above sea level by dumping waste matter and filling in on the properties. This resulted in the 2nd respondent issuing directives to the appellant in terms of section 31A of the Environmental Conservation Act 73 of 1989 (“ECA”), which required the appellant, at its own expense, to engage a freshwater ecologist and other environmental impacts of their actions.
The appellant complied with the directive but alleged that the directive had prevented it from undertaking any further development on the properties that were below the 1:100-year flood line, as well as the properties that were within the wetland boundary as surveyed by the ecologist.
The court below held that section 34(1) of the ECA provided a right to claim for compensation where loss suffered by a claimant arose from limitations placed on the purposes for which land may be used.
This court found that when the directives were issued, the constitutional and statutory obligations to prevent harm to the environment were met. Thus, section 34 of the ECA could not have been directed at providing compensation for actions taken under section 31A as those provisions regulate harmful activities against the environment.
This case concerned a dispute over the applicant’s land which became the subject of a mining permit held by the respondent. The applicants sought an interdict from the High Court to suspend all of the respondent’s mining activities. They contended that these activities would cause environmental harm and have negative effects on their business. The respondents argued that by failing to seek suspension of the permit timeously, the applicants exacerbated difficulties for both parties.
The court considered whether the matter was one of urgency and whether the applicants were entitled to the interdict sought. Although the court agreed with the respondent’s observations regarding the failings of the applicants, it held that both parties had an interest in certainty and therefore, took a liberal approach to consider the matter as urgent, noting that this would not prejudice either party.
The court did not find sufficient merit in the grounds for an interdict. The court held that the applicants needed to establish not only a prima facie right, but to show that they would suffer irreparable harm if the relief was not granted. The applicant, however, failed to demonstrate that irreparable harm would ensue if the interdict was not granted.
Consequently, the court did not grant the temporary interdict.
The court also refused to review the administrative decision to grant the respondent a mining permit. It held that the applicant needed to first exhaust all other possible remedies, which it did not do. Accordingly, the court refused the application for review.
This case concerned the duty of a public authority to provide portable water to a community that had been exposed to unsafe water. The applicants sought the following orders: the declaration of the respondents’ failure to provide water over one week as unlawful; a directive to the respondents find a temporary solution to provide water and a directive that the respondents take steps to restore the water supply services. The applicants stressed the urgency of the matter and asked the court to condone non-compliance with the provisions of the rules of the court.
The court considered whether the application before it was one of urgency and whether the applicants’ failure to comply with procedural rules could be condoned in the circumstances. The court held that the right to adequate access to water was a constitutional one and that when it was violated, the matter automatically became urgent. Consequently, it determined that the application was urgent and condoned the procedural irregularities.
The court held that it was the function of the local government to provide water. Consequently, the court ordered only the sixth and seventh respondents to temporarily make portable water available and to restore the water supply services in consultation with the applicants. These respondents were further ordered to report back to the court within one month.
The court was, however, disinclined to declare as unlawful the failure of the respondents to provide portable water for over one week, because the community residents themselves were partially to blame for this.
The matter concerned an application to the High Court for review of the decision of the first respondent to dismiss an appeal lodged by the applicant against environmental authorisations granted by the second respondent to the fourth and fifth respondent. The applicant argued that its right to procedural fairness was violated because a number of statutory provisions were not strictly followed. It was the applicant’s contention, however, that the words ‘must’ and ‘shall’ indicate the imperative, mandatory and preemptive intention of these provisions.
The court considered whether the act required exact compliance in every instance and whether the public participation process was flawed in this case. The court cited s47(a) of the National Environmental Management Act 107 of 1998 and held that requirements classified as mandatory need not, in fact, be strictly complied with, but that substantial or adequate compliance may be sufficient. In the present case, the court found that the failure to strictly comply with the statutory requirements did not materially prejudice the rights of the applicant.
The court also found no support for the applicant’s allegations that the public participation process was flawed or inhibited and that the environment would be endangered in any way. Rather, the court agreed with the respondents that the applicant seemed to attempt to capitalize on trivial deficiencies to discredit the entire process.
The court, therefore, dismissed the applicant’s application with costs.
The applicants sought to interdict and restrain the respondent from continuing to refuse access to a parcel of land, based on the respondent refuting an existing and enforceable prospecting right which was held by the applicants.
The court considered whether a prospecting right becomes an enforceable limited real right upon registration in the Mining Titles Office and held, it was universally accepted that mineral rights were real rights. Thus, prospecting rights were limited real rights in respect of the mineral and the land to which such rights related.
The court held that a distinction is drawn between the date the right becomes effective and the date of registration. The right becomes effective from the date of approval and subsequently needs to be registered within 30 days of it becoming effective. Therefore, the prospecting right will become enforceable from the date it is effective. The court found that to interpret the Mineral and Petroleum Development Act to mean that a prospecting right becomes effective but remains unenforceable because it has not been registered, would be impractical.
The court found that the respondent’s refusal was primarily a point of protecting his right as a landowner and to the protecting against being arbitrarily deprived of one’s property. Irrespective of the fact that the applicants renewed their prospecting right, the right remained in force until such time as the renewal had been granted or refused. Thus, the applicants had a valid and existing prospecting right and were entitled to access the land to complete their operations.
The applicant was a holder of a mining right and was conducting open cast mining operations. Due to changes to the applicant’s mine, they submitted an application to have the EMP amended. The 1st respondent directed that the applicant was to submit a revised environmental liability report in order to cover the inherent risk related to the proposed project, thus they need to provide funding to cover a worst-case scenario.
The crux of the issue concerned the powers conferred on the 1st respondent to approve EMP’s and amended EMP’s. The court found that the applicant’s amended EMP would, if implemented successfully, result in the partial backfilling and flooding as part of its mine closure process, thus creating a dam to supply water to the local community and resulting in a practical closure of the mine.
The court found that the conditions imposed were unreasonable and irrational and that the 1st respondent failed to take cognizance of all relevant conditions. In addition, the decision to impose the conditions and require financial provisions as a worst-case scenario, was ultra vires (acting beyond one’s legal power or authority).
The court found that the 1st respondent committed an error of law when making his decision which he was not entitled to make within the powers vested in him.
Review upheld and decision set aside.
The matter concerned an allegation that the accused’s filling stations presented an environmental risk. Having been granted leave, the prosecutor, an environmental advocacy organisation instituted a private prosecution in the Gauteng Division of the High Court against the accused, a fuel supplies company.
The prosecutor claimed that it had complied with all the legislative requirements set out in s33 of the National Environmental Management Act 107 of 1998 to enable it to initiate such a prosecution. Counts 1 to 21 of the indictment alleged that the accused had contravened ss 21(1), 22(1) and 29(4) of the Environmental Conservation Act 73 of 1986 (“ECA”) as read together with other supporting environmental legislation. The said s 22(2) provided that authorisation of activities like construction of a service station would only be issued after consideration of reports concerning their impact on the environment. The accused formally pleaded to the charges divided into two sections. The first was a plea under s 106(1)(h) denying the prosecutor’s entitlement to prosecute and the other was a plea of not guilty under s 106(1)(b).
The court held that the claim under s 106(1)(h) on defence of want of title to prosecute failed. The court concluded that the prosecutor's case was straightforward and that the accused breached a duty relating to the protection of the environment. It held that in terms of s22(1) of the ECA the undertaking of certain identified activities was prohibited without written authorisation. The accused was convicted on 17 counts and acquitted on four.
The matter dealt with coal mining operations occurring adjacent to a public park in northern KwaZulu-Natal. The first and second applicants were a registered trust pursuing environmental causes and an association of members of communities affected by open-cast mining in the area respectively. The applicants, in the public interest or alternatively affected parties, sought an interdict to shut the mine down completely for being in contravention of s 24 and s 38 of the South African Constitution. The relief sought was subsequently altered to an application to prevent illegal mining. Of the nine respondents cited, the first respondent, a mining company opposed the grant of any relief against it.
The court considered whether the first respondent complied with various national, provincial and local government legislative instruments. The court noted that the applicants were not entirely sure if the interdict they sought was final or interim. The court concluded that the applicants failed to make out a proper case for the relief as claimed, since they failed to put up convincing evidence to support their contentions that the first respondent was mining unlawfully and without the requisite authorisations. The court found that the applicants had not afforded the concerned authorities the opportunity to fully investigate their complaints before deciding to institute proceedings. The court cited various statutes that created regulatory authorities which were empowered to enforce compliance with the statutes they administered. Accordingly, the application was dismissed with costs.
The applicant brought this matter to the Constitutional court as a court of first instance having cited the respondents for their failure to implement legislation aimed at containing pollution and to prosecute state a company alleged to have caused pollution.
The court first had to decide whether it was necessary for the Constitutional Court to be the court of first instance in this matter.
The court stressed that direct access should be granted only in exceptional circumstances. The court stated that justification for direct access was set out in rule 18(2) of the Uniform Rules of the court on the following grounds: if it is in the interests of justice to do so; where the nature of relief sought and the grounds relied upon justify it; whether the matter can be dealt with by the Court without the hearing of oral evidence; and, if it cannot, how evidence should be adduced and conflicts of fact resolved. The court held that these grounds were not satisfied. Therefore the court could not adjudicate further on the allegations against the respondents and dismissed the application. However, in the alternative the court ordered that the Registrar bring the judgment to the attention of the Law Society of the Northern Provinces, with a request that it consider whether one of its members may provide assistance to the applicant as the issues were not set out clearly but were of importance and deserved the attention of the court.
This was an appeal to the Constitutional Court against the decision of the Supreme Court to uphold the unlawfulness of the water meters under operation “Gcin’amanzi”, a project addressing water losses and non-payment of water services in Soweto. This was done by installing pre-paid meters to charge consumers for use of water in excess of the free 6 kilolitre per household monthly water allowance. With access to water being a constitutionally guaranteed right, the Supreme Court ordered that the applicants supply residents with at least 60litres of water, hence quantifying what “sufficient water” as given in the Constitution.
The court in this matter had to deliberate on what the meaning of “sufficient water” was as required by the Constitution and the lawfulness of the pre-paid water meters.
The Constitutional Court found that it was not appropriate for a court to give a quantified content to what constitutes “sufficient water” because this would be best addressed by the government which pegged it. Further, given that, 80 percent of the households in the City would receive adequate water under the present policy, the Court concluded that it would not have been unreasonable for the City not to have supplied more.
With regard to the pre-paid water meters, the Court held that the national legislation and the City’s own by-laws authorised the local authority to introduce pre-paid water meters as part of Operation Gcin’amanzi. Accordingly, it held that the installation of the meters was neither unfair nor discriminatory.
The matter dealt with an application for leave to appeal against the decision of the Supreme Court to allow the first respondent to acquire a prospecting licence in terms of the Mineral and Petroleum Resources Development Act over the applicant’s land.
Appeals to the High Court, and later to the Supreme Court were dismissed on the ground that the community had failed to file for review timeously in terms of the provisions of the Promotion of Administrative Justice Act. The merits of the case were not heard in both matters.
In determining the application, the Constitutional Court considered the following: whether there were internal remedies; whether there was proper consultation and whether consideration was given to the environmental requirements.
It found that an internal appeal was available to the applicants, but the respondents’ failure to deal with the appeal frustrated the process, although the review application had been brought in time. Further, the court held that the granting of prospecting rights was an invasion of a property owner’s rights and that the purpose of consultation with landowners, was to provide them with the information necessary to make an informed decision on how to respond to the application.
The court concluded that the decision-maker had not given the community a hearing or complied with the fairness requirements of the Act, and that the environmental requirements in terms of the Act had not been satisfied. Accordingly, leave to appeal was granted and the prospecting rights on the community’s land were set aside.
The matter dealt with an appeal against the decision of the Supreme Court to uphold an interdict against the applicant to stop the applicant from mining until the respective land in contention was re-zoned to permit mining in terms of provincial legislation. The minister had earlier granted mining permits to the appellant to mine areas zoned as public open spaces in terms of the Mineral and Petroleum Resources Development Act. The appellant contended the act was superior to the provincial legislation and Supreme Court had erred in upholding the High Court interdict against it. The appellant had claimed that mining fell under the exclusive competence of national government and that the proposition that provincial legislation regulating municipal planning applied to it would be tantamount to allowing municipal government to intrude into the terrain of the national sphere.
The Constitutional Court in determining whether to grant leave considered whether the provincial legislation that required rezoning did not apply to land used for mining.
The court, in rejecting the applicant’s argument, held that the provincial law and the national law served different purposes which fall within the competences of the local and the national sphere. Each sphere was exercising power allocated to it by the Constitution and regulated by the relevant legislation.
The court concluded that the interdicts were invalidly issued and held further that in order to bring clarity to the application of competing laws, leave to appeal ought to be granted in order to deal with the constitutional issues raised.