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 Supreme Court case revolved around a compromise agreement between the fourth respondent and the appellant. The fourth respondent, a registered mining company, was going bankrupt and its management was entrusted to the liquidator. The liquidator then granted the appellant the right to treat stockpiles of ore at the mine to raise money to pay the creditors. The appellant then attempted to have all mining activities registered under its name. In doing so, the appellant misrepresented the facts to the third respondents without involving the fourth respondent stating that it paid the creditors their dues and as such, it was entitled to have mining activities registered under its name. However, the fourth respondent succeeded in establishing that the appellant was lying. This led the third respondent to cancel the appellant’s falsely obtained mineral rights. The High Court agreed with the respondents that the appellant's mineral rights over the plot in dispute were justifiably cancelled. The appellant felt aggrieved by the court’s judgement and appealed to the Supreme Court.
The issue for determination was whether the appellant was allowed to register mining rights under its name and whether the third respondent erred in cancelling its rights.
The Supreme Court held that agreements cannot be valid if consent was obtained through misrepresentation. Consequently, it found that the appellant was unjustified and supported the third respondent’s decision to cancel the falsely obtained rights.
The court considered a criminal appeal against the sentence imposed on the accused, who was sentenced to a mandatory 2-year imprisonment for contravening s 368 (1), which dealt with the illegal mining of gold, under the Mines and Minerals Act
Before imposing a mandatory sentence, the court asked the accused if there were any special circumstances relating to the commission of the offence which would result in the requisite sentence not being imposed.
The accused held that his special circumstances were that he did not have enough money for a bus fare. The court found that this did not constitute a special circumstance as poverty desperation could not be excused for the commission of a crime.
The court found that a special circumstance is within the court’s discretion and thus it should be taken to be any extenuating circumstance. Further, that the court should enquire into all circumstances put forward by an accused to validate the aspect of a special circumstance.
The court held that a trial court had to ensure that economic situations leading to commission of crimes under economic circumstances at the time did not operate differently for the rich and for the poor. The court found that the court below should have performed a proper enquiry and that the accused should be given the benefit of the doubt. Accordingly, the appeal succeeded.
The court considered an application for a declaratory order and an interdict, declaring the defendants’ waste discharges unlawful and constituting pollution, and prohibiting the defendants from discharging their waste material.
The first and third defendants were mining companies and in conducting their business, they discharged their untreated waste material and effluence into a river. The plaintiffs were inhabitants on the banks of the river and relied on it for their subsistence. The plaintiffs contended that the discharge had polluted the water, aquatic life and disturbed the ecosystem.
The defendants opposed the application by bringing a special plea alleging that the court lacked jurisdiction to hear the matter and it ought to be heard by the Environmental Management Agency. Further, that an interdict should not be granted as there was an alternative remedy available under the Environmental Management Act.
The court found that the argument that the court lacked jurisdiction was without merit. The court observed that there was a glaring need for a declaration as to the existence of a legal right claimed by the plaintiffs but this was not argued nor the fact that the EMA could not issue the declaratory orders sought by the plaintiffs although the plaintiffs were interested persons in the subject matter of the suit. The court found the plaintiffs had a direct and substantial interest in the matter and that there was a need for a declaration to the right claimed by the plaintiffs. Accordingly, the application for special plea was dismissed.
This was a review in the High Court concerning two accused persons who had been charged with and convicted for contravening s 368(2) as read with s 368 (4) of the Mines and Minerals Act [Chapter 21:05] for prospecting for minerals when they were not holders of licences or permits.
The issue facing the court was to determine whether the accused persons, being widows with minor children, were acting under special circumstances, as the trial magistrate had found. The court held that the learned trial magistrate completely misdirected himself in holding that the circumstances of the accused persons amounted to special circumstances, as there was nothing out of the ordinary about being a widow with minor children to look after. The court also held that the learned magistrate’s line of reasoning was faulty in calling that widows and widowers with minor children should be excused when they break the law so as to fend for the minor children, since it was a recipe for anarchy as there were so many widows and widowers in the country.
Consequently, the sentence imposed by the trial magistrate was not allowed to stand and, therefore, set aside. The matter was sent back to the trial court to recall the two accused persons and impose the sentence of two years imprisonment as mandated by law. Since both accused persons had already served four months imprisonment in the form of community service, they were to serve an effective term of 20 months imprisonment.
The court considered an application to review a sentence imposed on the accused. The accused was charged with contravening s 3(1) of the Gold Trade Act by virtue of being found in possession of 0.62g of gold valued at $20.62. The accused pleaded guilty and was convicted. The lower court imposed a short sentence whereas as the act stipulated of not less than 5 years for persons found guilty of the offence, unless special circumstances existed showing cause why the mandatory sentence should not be imposed. The magistrate relied on special circumstances pleaded in mitigation.
The special circumstances referred to by the accused were that his wife was in hospital and was going to undergo surgery and that he committed the offence to raise hospital fees and money for the surgery
The court found that these were not special circumstances as envisaged by the act but that what the accused relied on was a common occurrence and did not entail that persons in such situations ought to resort to crime. The court held further, that his illegal action was not a solution to this problem nor would $20 be enough to pay the hospital bills.
The court held that there was no reason why the mandatory sentence should not be imposed. Accordingly, the court set aside the sentence imposed by the trial court and remitted it back to impose the mandatory sentence.
This was a case in the High Court where two accused persons were convicted on their own pleas of guilty to contravening s 368 of the Mines and Minerals Act by the Provincial Magistrate.
Having found special circumstances as would entitle the trial court to impose a sentence other than the mandatory one provided in the act; the magistrate sentenced each of the accused persons to 24 months imprisonment of which 12 months imprisonment were suspended for 5 years on condition of good future behaviour. The remaining 12 months were suspended on condition they each complete 420 hours of community service.
The issue before the court was to determine the special circumstances as found by the trial court. The judge applied the rule of Judge J Ebrahim in S v Mbewe and others 1988 (1) ZLR 7(H) to make the determination. The judge’s view was that the trial court erred because the issues put up by the accused were mitigating factors of general application which clearly did not amount to special circumstances at all.
Consequently, the judge ordered that the conviction of the two accused persons stood, and set aside the finding of the trial magistrate that there were special circumstances; and the sentence. The judge also ordered the matter to be sent back to the trial court for it to recall the accused persons and impose the appropriate sentence according to law by deducting from it 53 days equivalent to 420 hours community service already served.
In the High Court, an appellant was applying for bail pending his appeal against both conviction and sentence by the trial court, having been convicted of contravening s368(2) as read with s368(4) of the Mines and Minerals Act [Chapter 21:01] that is, prospecting for gold without a licence. He had been sentenced to two years, being the mandatory minimum penalty for that offence after the magistrate failed to find any special circumstances.
The issue before the court was to exercise its discretion on whether to grant bail to the appellant. The court held that in exercising the discretion on whether or not to grant bail pending appeal, the court must be guided by the prospects of success on appeal and whether there is risk that the applicant would abscond. The judge held that from the court record there was a problem with the rebuttal of the applicant’s defence in the trial court. The applicant had argued that he was carrying a pot and a lid when the police pounced, but state witnesses alleged that he carried a shovel.
The judge was satisfied that the applicant had discharged the responsibility upon him and that the court should indeed exercise its discretion in the applicant’s favour. Accordingly, the judge granted the application on condition that he deposited a sum of $100.00 with the Clerk of Court, he resided at a particular village and to report at a police station twice a week on Mondays and Fridays between 6.00 am and 6.00 pm.
The court considered a criminal appeal against the sentence imposed on the accused.
The accused was convicted, on his own guilty plea, for contravening s 3(1)(a) of the Gold Trade Act by being in possession of 0.15 grams of gold without authorisation.
The evidence revealed that the accused was asked whether there were any special circumstances, which the court below established did not exist and sentenced him to the mandatory minimum sentence.
The accused argued that the trial judge did not explain in full what special circumstances meant and the inadequate explanation prejudiced him. The respondent agreed and stated that the explanation was “special or extraordinary mitigating factors” where it should have referred to special circumstances.
The court found that the Act did not define special circumstances, and it was on a case by case basis. However, the court below took all necessary steps to explain the meaning and import of special circumstances, which was given in clear unambiguous terms.
The court found that the accused was not an illiterate person and appreciated what was taking place and there was nothing preventing him from asking the magistrate for clarity. Further, that the accused’s conduct once arrested, in running away illustrated a guilty state of mind.
The court found that the accused’s special circumstance of “being the only breadwinner” was clear that he was aware of the offence being committed. As such, the court found no merit in the appeal.
This was an application for the discharge of the accused persons for lack of evidence pursuant to s 198 (3) of the Criminal Procedure and Evidence Act. The state had alleged that the accused persons were acting in common purpose through a series of fraudulent misrepresentations to the Government of Zimbabwe, the Ministry of Mines and Mining Development and Zimbabwe Mining Development Corporation (ZMDC) and induced ZMDC to enter into a joint venture agreement of diamond mining with Core Mining (Pvt) Ltd. They fronted Benny Steinmeitz Group Resources (BSGR) as its guarantor and on that representation, the government approved a contract, it never would have otherwise approved.
Relying on the parole evidence rule that posits that parties are strictly bound by the four corners of the contractual document and nothing outside it, the court held that both government and ZMDC cannot be heard to complain that they were duped into signing the contractual document under the mistaken belief that BSGR was standing as guarantor for Core Mining when the contractual document makes no mention of BSGR at all.
Court further held that the state closed its case without leading any evidence pertaining to the misrepresentations allegedly made by the accused concerning the due diligence exercise on Core Mining. That misrepresentation is a vital component of the crime of fraud without which the crime cannot be committed. The state having failed to establish a prima facie case against the accused, it was accordingly ordered that both accused be acquitted and discharged.
Constitutional law – Constitution of Zimbabwe 1980 – Declaration of Rights – right to protection of the law – prosecution of former farm employees for unlawfully remaining on farm after acquisition – legislation creating an offence to do so constitutional – no constitutional issue arising
Land – acquisition – former employees remaining on farm – no right to do so – employment ceased on acquisition of farm – liable to prosecution for occupying gazetted land without lawful authority
This was a criminal trial in which the accused was charged with two counts for contravening the Mines and Minerals Act and the Money Laundering and Proceeds of Crime Act.
The court determined whether the accused misrepresented that he had the mandate to sell a special grant which prejudiced the buyers. In finding the accused guilty of fraud, the court pointed out that the accused mispresented that he had the authority to deal with a coal mining concession held under a special grant. Through the misrepresentation, the accused personally benefitted from the proceeds. The court further pointed out that the moment the accused benefitted from the criminal activity, the property became proceeds of crime. The accused further received occupation of the immovable property which he was not entitled.
On the criminal charge against the accused for ceding a mining right to a third person without the consent of the president, the court held that the section does not create a criminal offence. It merely sets out the characteristics of the special right and how it can be assigned.
The accused was found guilty on both counts and sentenced to 10 years imprisonment, with 2 years suspended for 5 years. Further 4 years were suspended on condition that the accused paid restitution to the complainant. Effectively, the accused was sentenced to 4 years imprisonment.
The accused was charged on several counts for the unlawful possession of gold without a licence, smuggling and the use of a vehicle with secret or disguised places for concealing goods. In his defence, the accused stated that he was not aware of the presence of gold on the vehicle having borrowed it from another person who was a gold dealer.
The main issue for the court’s consideration was whether the accused person had knowledge of the existence of the gold. The court noted that the burden of proof in criminal matters rests on the state and that the state is required to prove its case beyond reasonable doubt. The court found that the state failed to adduce sufficient evidence to prove that the accused indeed had knowledge of the existence of the gold and the compartments.
Given these circumstances the court gave the accused person the benefit of the doubt and he was acquitted on all three counts.
The court considered a criminal appeal, where the applicants had been charged for contravening s7(1)(a) or (b) of the Communal Land Act, by occupying or using communal land without lawful authority. The applicants pleaded guilty and were convicted and sentenced to pay a fine of $5000 or 30 days in prison. The appellants appealed the conviction on the ground that the court committed an irregularity by failing to proceed in terms of the correct procedure.
They contended that by entering a guilty plea, the court had a duty to safeguard the fair trial rights of the accused by adopting a procedure which was most likely to suggest a defence where there was one.
The court considered whether the appellant’s conviction was lawful. It observed that with unrepresented accused persons, there was the ever-present likelihood that out of ignorance of the law, a person would admit to charges of a complex nature out of a desire to draw sympathy of the police or the courts and the onus was upon the court to choose a procedure which would have given the appellants a possible defence.
The court found that the conviction was wrong and remitted the matter back to the lower court. In addition, the court below would be required to take cognizance of s 16 of the Act which required that following a conviction, an order for eviction be granted. Accordingly, the appeal succeeded.