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.
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The court considered an urgent application regarding quarrying activities, wherein the applicants sought, amongst several other grounds, to interdict the 1st and 2nd respondent from carrying out blasting and quarrying activities, pending the finalisation of the damage caused to the applicants’ houses.
The 3rd respondent operated a quarry for materials needed for the construction of mountain roads and in order to perform their job, blasting was required in order to loosen up the materials. Prior to the commencement of the work photographs of the houses within 500-meter radius of the quarry would be taken, in order to monitor and evaluate the effect of such blasting.
The respondents argued that the applicant had refused to have the liaison committee survey their buildings to detect the damage incurred due to the blasting.
The court considered whether the matter was urgent. It found that even with the applicants’ refusal, the buildings had been photographed and numbered to facilitate the assessment of damage following the blast.
On determining whether the matter was inherently urgent, the court found that the applicants were at all times aware that the blasting had occurred, yet they did nothing. On this basis, the court found that the applicants rights were not being impaired and as such their interdict was not granted. Accordingly, the application was dismissed.
In this Supreme Court case, the first respondent applied for the permit to drill boreholes in the Khan River for uranium mining activities. Subsequently, the second respondent granted the rights to use the boreholes and the water to the first respondent allegedly in the exercise of its powers provided under the Water Act of 1954. The appellant’s case against the respondents was that the wildlife on its farm depended on the naturally occurring underground water to support natural habitats. Overusing the water from the rare sources in the area would, therefore, disturb the ecosystem.
At the High Court level, the issue was to determine whether under the act the second respondent had the powers to grant such rights. The High Court held that the powers to grant such rights were limited to subterranean waters. Moreover, the court held that since under the act sections 27, 28 and 30, the president proclaims the underground waters. The president had never declared the areas allocated to the first respondent as such the permits were a nullity. As a result, there was nothing to be determined by the court in favour of the appellant.
On appeal, the Supreme Court agreed that the permit issued was a nullity. However, it held that the High Court ought to have decided the case in favour of the appellant since, in law, illegal acts can create reviewable actions. Finally, the Supreme Court upheld the appellant’s claim.
The plaintiff in this case claimed restitution for a breach of contract. The court determined whether the defendant was in breach of contract for failing to install a working borehole in a geohydrological environment where the plaintiff's farm was located.
The defendant raised a counterclaim that the plaintiff had accepted that work was completed but failed to pay the balance of the agreed amount. The court applied the rule in Du Plessis v Ndjavera that the plaintiff is under no obligation to perform before defendant has completed his performance.
The court held that the defendant was at fault for failing to assess the soil formation in the area and ended up using the incorrect drilling method. The court observed that the defendant admitted to using the riskier direct flush air percussion instead of the mud rotary method to save on expenses and thus failed to complete performance.
Accordingly, the court held that the defendant was in breach of contract and the plaintiff was entitled to cancel the
agreement and claim restitution. The counterclaim was also dismissed with costs.
Environment – environmental impact assessment – requirement for – such requirement additional to considerations for issue of mining permit
This was an appeal against the decision of the High Court to dismiss an application for review of an application for the setting aside of a decision made by the second respondent, the Member of the Executive Committee of the Department of Agriculture, Conservation and Environment, Mpumalanga (the MEC), and upheld on appeal by the first respondent, the Director General, Environmental Management, Mpumalanga, (the DG). The decision in question was to permit the construction of a filling station in White River. The appellant contended that the permission was given contrary to the provisions of the law.
The court observed that all environmental precautions had been taken into account by the scoping report. It found that the land had been rezoned by the local authority from special area to a business area, based on need and desirability. The court held that that the key factors’ in deciding to grant the application in the circumstance were: firstly, that the property had been rezoned from “special” to “business”; secondly, that no potential threatened plant and animal species were recorded during the site investigation; and, that all identified and perceived impacts were satisfactorily dealt with in the scoping report and the recommendations proposed were sufficient to minimize any negative impacts. Since all this were observed. The appellant case was dismissed with cost.
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.
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 court considered whether an interim interdict could be granted to stop short-term remedial measures which were put in place to treat acid mine drainage (AMD).
To determine whether to grant the interim interdict, the date on which the ECL would be reached was critical. The court found that pursuant to the date being determined, the court was to apply the precautionary principle, which requires authorities to insist on adequate measures to safeguard against the contamination of underground water.
The court found that the ECL could not be determined and based on the short-term project, the greater the danger and consequences of untreated AMD is averted.
The court considered an application for review to set aside the decision of the respondent regarding authorisation to develop a filling station on property situated within a commercial area.
The court considered whether the department had acted unfairly by failing to call for further information from the applicant, and subsequently denying the applicant authorisation to develop the filling station. Found, the department was not obliged to request the applicant to amend their report, and as such the applicant was entitled to renew their report at any stage, and thus did not act unfairly.
In order to determine whether the respondent had acted unlawfully and irregularly, environmental legislation and the Constitution, which contain socio-economic considerations, had to be considered.
The court considered whether the department’s policy of protecting the environment met with the guidelines applicable to developing filling stations was reasonable, and reasonably applied. Policy is applicable where (i) it will not preclude the exercise of discretion; (ii) it is compatible with the enabling legislation; and (iii) it is disclosed to the affected person before a decision is reached. The court found that the department met all of the requirements and was lawfully entitled, and duty bound to consider the guidelines.
The court considered whether the respondent’s argument regarding the distance was reasonable. The court found that the department had consulted with stakeholders who agreed with the distance and reduced the distance in the industry’s favour. Accordingly, the court held that the department acted bona fide and reasonably.
This was an application for review of the respondent’s decision to authorise the construction of a lodge in a protected area. The lodge was built prior to obtaining the necessary environmental authorisation but this was obtained ex post facto. The applicant had at the time of filing this application alos filed an application for an interdict to stop the construction of the lodge, which application was dismissed.
The main legal issue to be resolved was whether under the National Environmental Management Act No 107 of 1998 (NEMA) a permit to build a house in the Protected Environment (MPE) could be issued ex post facto as was given to the third respondent by the first and second respondents.
The court held that section 24 G of NEMA provided for the rectification of the unlawful commencement of the activity by applying to the Minister or MEC for an ex post facto environmental authorisation. In conclusion, the court held that since the application was done and approved ex post facto the respondents had acted within the confines of the law and therefore the application lacked merit. The court observed further that the was aware, or ought to have been aware that when it was unsuccessful in the urgent application to have the development of the Lodge suspended, the consequences were that the respondent would continue with the construction and finalisation of its building project and the review would be rendered academic. Accordingly, the application was dismissed.
This was a claim for negligence and damages caused to the plaintiffs’ houses by road construction works that were carried out by the first defendant with the authority of the second defendant. The second defendant argued that the action was statute barred and that it could not be held liable for the first defendant’s negligence since they were independent contractors.
The court noted that the plaintiffs accepted that the action against the second defendant was statute barred but argued that the second defendant waived its right to a remedy under the act. The court held that the joinder of the second defendant to the proceedings was improper. It was further held that the waiver which was not pleaded lacked merit.
Secondly, the court determined whether the first defendant was negligent. The court noted that an action of negligence required the plaintiffs to prove that there was a duty of care owed to them, a breach of the duty and damages suffered thereof. The court held that the first defendant owed the plaintiffs a duty of care not to subject their houses to a risk of damage. However, the court found that the plaintiffs failed to prove a breach of the duty, since there was no evidence that the construction was done without risk assessment and the plaintiffs had been compensated for the damages.
The issue of the second defendant’s liability was found to be redundant, since the action was already dismissed on the basis of the first and second issues.