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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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.
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 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.
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.
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 court considered a petition against the government’s failure to recognize the petitioner’s right to property and the right to just compensation when it deprived a person of their property. The case involved the construction of a standard gauge railway (SGR) through private land. The petitioner contended that his right to property and just compensation had been violated and that the third respondent had failed to ensure that the appropriate environmental and social impact study of the SGR was undertaken.
The court considered firstly, whether the compulsory land acquisition was carried out in accordance with the Constitution and the law, and secondly, whether the construction of the SGR was in compliance with environmental laws and the Constitution.
The court found that the first respondent had accorded the land owners with the requisite notices and at the enquiry, as required by law, many obliged to the acquisition and were paid. Further, that the petitioner’s reliance on a repealed act was unsupported, and that he had not shown any substantive section of the Land Acquisition Act that was misapplied by the respondents through the process of compulsory acquisition, thus there was no violation of the Constitution.
The court found that an environmental impact assessment had been conducted and that the respondents took into account, all environmental considerations including sustainable development. Accordingly, the petition was dismissed.
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 a petition stop the development of flats within a residential area. The property was initially planned as a single dwelling unit but the developer applied for change of user to multiple dwelling units which was approved. The petitioners claimed that the change of user was irregularly granted and claimed that approval from the National Environmental Management Agency was improper because the county government approved the change of user despite multiple objections from the public.
The petitioners sought an order declaring that the decision of the first respondent to change the user was unconstitutional and null and void. Further, that the approval of the re-development amounted to a dereliction of duties.
The court considered 1) whether a proper Environmental Impact Assessment was conducted, 2) whether the process of planning approval was lawfully adhered to and, 3) whether there was a violation of the petitioners' constitutional rights.
It held that the NEMA processes were casually done as objections to the project, were not given a hearing and were not considered before the decision to allow the project was made.
Further, it held that there was no consultation with interested parties as was required by the law. This meant that no proper EIA was carried out and therefore the process of planning approval was legally flawed.
As a result of this, the court held that claims for violations of the right to a clean and healthy environment were breached or at the very least, under threat.
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.
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 determined the threshold for public participation required for the coal-mining project. The court noted that there was no litmus test for determining when a court could conclude that there was adequate public participation. However, the court found that it is necessary to consider the bona fides of the public actor, the nature of the subject matter, the length and quality of the engagement and the number of mechanisms used to reach as many people as possible. On consideration of these factors, the court held that the government complied with the requirement for public participation in the project.
Secondly, the court noted that the non-involvement of the Kitui County Government in the Coal mining project was explained by the fact that the County Government was not in existence at the time of the award of the Concessioning Tender.
Thirdly, the court found the apprehension of deprivation of property to be speculative as the Government had indicated that it would compensate and resettle the affected parties.
Fourthly, the court held that the petitioners could not invoke the court’s jurisdiction to question either the procedural propriety or substantive merits of the procurement process since they did not follow the procurement procedures.
Fifthly, the court found it unnecessary to determine the issue on violation of the right to information, since the Government had supplied a copy of the Benefits Sharing Agreement to all the parties. Finally, the court held that the petitioners failed to prove environmental harm.
Accordingly, the petition was dismissed.
The petitioner argued that the first respondent violated his right to a clean and healthy environment, by leasing out property to the third respondent for the construction of a telecommunications base transmission mast.
Firstly, the court determined the jurisdiction of the court to decide on a dispute concerning the issuance of an Environmental Impact Assessment License despite the existence of an avenue of redress at the National Environmental Tribunal (NET). The court noted that the dispute could was on one hand based on the issuance of the EIA license by NEMA but it was also based on the violation of the right to health. The court therefore relied on s 13 (3) of the Environment and Land Court Act and held that the court had the requisite jurisdiction.
Secondly, the court determined whether the construction of a telecommunications base transmission mast on property adjacent to that of the petitioner violated the petitioner’s right to a clean and healthy environment. The court noted that the third respondent had not obtained that license thus the mast was constructed illegally and that the 4th respondent had a duty to commence investigation and take necessary legal action.
It was further held that, where a procedure for the protection of the environment was provided for in law but was not followed a presumption would to be drawn that the project violated the right to a clean and healthy environment, or was one that had potential to harm the environment.
Accordingly, the petition was allowed.
The matter dealt with an application seeking an order that the defendant be temporarily restrained from erecting, constructing and or use of the public toilet on the beach front near the plaintiff’s resort.
The court considered whether the plaintiff established a prima facie case with a probability of success to warrant the grant of a temporary injunction. The principle of public participation informs the requirement of submission of an Environmental Impact Assessment Report which gives individuals such as the applicant a voice in issues that may bear directly on their health and welfare and entitlement to a clean environment. In the absence of the report for the construction of the toilets approved by the National Environment Management Authority, the court held that the plaintiff established a prima facie case with chances of success.
The court considered whether the construction of the public toilet next to the resort would cause adverse environmental effect thus devaluing the plaintiff's otherwise prime property. The court has the constitutional duty, at Article 70 (2) of the Constitution to prevent, stop or discontinue any act or omissions that is harmful to the environment. Accordingly, the court held that unless the order of injunction was granted as prayed, the plaintiff, and the users of the beach and the ocean were likely to suffer irreparable damage if the toilets were used before proper mechanisms were put in place to mitigate the environmental pollution that may have occurred.
The application was granted.
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.
The court considered an appeal against the first respondent’s decision to approve the second respondent’s construction, of a light industry, namely a metal fabricating workshop.
The appellants argued that the approval was granted without public consultation and that the construction would interfere with their quiet occupation of their residences. They alleged that the construction would produce noise, emit fumes and encourage the setting up of other industries in a high class residential area. The first respondent argued that this claim was not one for noise or air pollution, but construction, and it did not fall within the scope of its functions but that of the municipal council. The second respondent argued that all relevant consultations had taken place prior to the approval of the environmental impact assessment (EIA) project report.
The tribunal considered the grounds of appeal and observed that the purpose of the EIA process under the act was to assess the likely, significant impacts of a proposed development project on the environment. It stated that the assessment included air quality, water quality, traffic, noise, and other features of the environment but these considerations were not affected by whether an area is designated as a residential area.
The tribunal held that, there was no evidence to show that the second respondent’s development, would adversely impact on the environment, in the area, in ways that could not be mitigated by the measures that had been proposed by the second respondent in the EIA report.
Accordingly, the appeal was dismissed.
The applicant intended to erect a petrol station and submitted an Environmental Impact Assessment (EIA) report to the respondent for approval. The respondent did not, however, respond to the report within three months, as envisaged in the Environmental Management and Co-ordination Act. The applicant decided to proceed with the project, as permitted by section 58 (9) of the Act.
The respondent stopped the project and handed the applicant a letter to the effect that the proposal for the project had been rejected.
The applicant applied for judicial review orders and submitted that the respondent had failed to conduct public hearings to assess the acceptability of the proposal. Thus, the respondent could not interfere with the applicant’s statutory discretion under section 58 (9) of the Act.
The court had to decide whether the rejection by the respondent was binding and if the respondent had sufficient grounds for the rejection.
The court held that the remedy of judicial review deals with the process, but not the merits of the decision by a tribunal, therefore the respondent’s submission that the applicant should have appealed to the tribunal if aggrieved, was untenable.
Further, that members of the public were denied sufficient opportunity to respond and make their comments. The applicant could not blame the respondents for failing to comply with section 58 (9). The delay in giving the decision was only one month, which in view of the court, was reasonable in the circumstances.
The applicants sought orders of temporary injunction and injunction to restrain the respondents from using the suit property as a wedding ground or place of entertainment of wedding parties and to restrain the respondents from carrying out actions that constitute noise pollution within the meaning of the Environment and Management Co-ordination (Noise and Excessive Vibration) (Control) Regulations 2009 (Legal Notice No.6/2009).
The applicants contended that no Environmental Impact Assessment (EIA) was conducted and notice of change of user was not served on the residents in accordance with the Physical Planning Act. On the other hand, the respondents contended that the applicants had no locus standi as the association was illegal.
The court found that the applicants, being neighbors to the suit property, were aggrieved by the respondents’ actions and had locus to bring the case.
The court noted that the respondents had no EIA license but only a letter of approval from NEMA that contained conditions which they had not complied with. The court also found that the publication of change of user was insufficient as it was done in newspapers of limited circulation and the residents were not personally served. Court further found that the respondents had not complied with Legal Notice No.6/2009.
Accordingly, the court granted the injunctions.
This matter arose from an application for judicial review of a decision of the defendant to issue a notice for the cancellation of the plaintiff’s license. The plaintiff prayed for orders of certiorari, prohibition and mandamus.
The court certified the application as urgent and directed the applicant to serve the respondent. The respondent failed to make an appearance during the hearing, and the court granted leave to stay the notice of cancellation of the licence.
The respondent later filed an application under s 3A of Civil Procedure Act to set aside the stay order. The court found that the replying affidavits filed by the interested parties raised environmental issues and deficiency in the procedure leading to the grant of licence to the applicant.
The court noted its obligation to protect and uphold the authority of all the concerned parties to preserve and manage the environment. The court thus ordered the applicant and the Water Resource Management Authority (interested party) to file joint reports after surveying the riparian reserve area to indicate whether the project had interfered with the reserve. In case of failure to get a joint report, the court ordered the parties to file separate reports from their respective experts within 15 days and prohibited the applicant from developing the area of suit land along the riparian reserve.
This was an application for judicial review wherein the applicants sought orders to quash the respondents’ decision to place an advertisement in the newspapers calling for applications for concessions in state forests, prohibition orders to prevent the respondent from actualizing any matters concerning the advertisement. They also sought an order of mandamus to compel the respondent to comply with constitutional provisions on the protection of forests.
The respondent argued that they had taken the action in accordance with s 37(2) of the Forest Act.
The court determined whether the respondent had complied with the law in making the decision.
The court interpreted s 37(2) and established that before the board takes a decision to place an advertisement for concessions, it must be satisfied that the forests will be efficiently managed through such concession or license and for the board to be satisfied, factors such as public views and opinion, should be taken into account before the decision is made.
The court found that the respondent had not made provision for public participation, yet it was constitutionally bound to do so and thus failed to comply with the law.
Accordingly, the court granted the orders sought by the applicants.
This was an appeal from a decision in an application for judicial review. The appellant was aggrieved by the lower court’s finding that the appellant was not entitled to the orders sought for failure to disclose that an appellate procedure existed under s 129 of the Environmental and Management Co-ordination Act 1999 (EMCA) and not demonstrating why judicial review was preferred to an appeal to the National Environmental Tribunal under the act, upon being dissatisfied with the National Environmental Management Authority’s (NEMA) decisions.
NEMA had ordered the appellant to conduct a fresh Environmental Impact Assessment (EIA) under s 138 of the EMCA and to cease construction on the suit land.
The court determined whether the trial judge erred in finding that the appellant failed to demonstrate that judicial review was more suitable than an appeal to the tribunal.
The court held that the trial judge arrived at the right conclusion. The court applied the rule that, where an alternative remedy such as a statutory appeal procedure existed, judicial review can only be granted in exceptional circumstances. The court noted that the appellant failed to demonstrate these exceptional circumstances and should have made an appeal to the tribunal instead.
The court also found that public participation is a crucial aspect in environmental matters. The court noted that the fresh EIA as ordered by NEMA would give the appellant an opportunity to ensure public participation which had been ignored in the first EIA.
Accordingly, the appeal was dismissed.
This was an appeal against the decision of the respondents refusing to issue an Environmental Impact Assessment (EIA) Licence for the appellants’ housing project. The appellants asked the tribunal to set aside the decision and award costs of the appeal.
The respondents argued that they had received strong objections from members of the local community since the project was in a wildlife migratory corridor and dispersal area.
The tribunal determined whether the respondents were justified in their decision, subject to the objections, without considering if the objectives of the project could be met in absence of the project. The tribunal noted that the objecting stakeholders also found the project to be worthwhile. The tribunal found that the respondents failed by ascertaining that the views of the objecting stakeholders expressed the views of a significant section of the local community. The tribunal also found that the respondents failed to demonstrate that the potential adverse impacts could not be mitigated.
Based on these findings, the tribunal unanimously set aside the respondents’ decision and issued an EIA licence for the appellants’ project but on several conditions