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.
The matter dealt with an alleged breach of contract that required the plaintiff to supply large amounts of water to the defendantís wine farm. The contract contained two main clauses namely, that the defendant would reimburse the plaintiff a maximum of N$300000 for obtaining tenders and would design and construct the bulk water supply scheme in the absence of an alternative agreement.
The plaintiff contended that the agreement was never entered into despite the work being carried out and as a result, they were entitled to reimbursement because the defendant breached the two main clauses of the contract. In response, the defendant alleged that the plaintiff was vicariously guilty of breach of contract as a result of which the defendant says it terminated contract.
The main question before the court was whether the plaintiff was vicariously guilty of breach of contract which resulted in the defendantís termination of the contract and in the alternative. The court also considered whether the respondent would be required to pay for the work done as per the agreement.
The court found that no such breach existed and that had there been a breach, the defendant, would have been required to communicate termination of the contract which it failed to do. The court concluded that the reliance on an alleged oral agreement had not been proved by facts ëíin the clearest and most satisfactory manneríí. The court found in favour of the applicant.
This was an application for absolution from the instance by the defendant at the close of the plaintiffÕs case on grounds that there was no need to rebut the plaintiffÕs claims since there was a lack of sufficient evidence.
The plaintiff had instituted a claim for damages following the defendantÕs failure to avail water for irrigation purposes as was previously agreed.
The court determined whether the plaintiff had placed before the court sufficient evidence to warrant the defendant to be placed on its defence.
The court applied test of whether the plaintiff has established a prima facie case against the defendant and whether there is evidence that has been placed before the court upon which a reasonable court might give judgment against the defendant.
The court found that the plaintiff failed to establish a case against the defendant. Firstly, because the plaintiff was prevented by third parties from abstracting water from the dam because of low water levels. Secondly, in terms of the agreement between the parties the defendant did not guarantee the availability of water and was not liable for responsible for damages arising out of any failure to supply the water. Thirdly, the plaintiffÕs claim was wrongly premised since only 50 hectares of the land were under irrigation and not 90 hectares as contended.
Accordingly, the application for absolution from the instance at the close of the plaintiffÕs case was granted in favor of the defendant with costs.
Constitutional law – Constitution of Zimbabwe 2013 – Declaration of Rights – right to water (s 77) – legislative measures to ensure supply of potable water – duty of urban council to ensure water distributed fairly
Human rights – right to water – legislative measures to ensure supply of potable water – duty of urban council to ensure water distributed fairly
This was an application to interdict the respondent from disconnecting water supplies from the applicant’s property without a court order and from charging commercial rates for the use of water from the said property.
The applicant submitted that the respondent was infringing on their right to water as provided in s 77(a) of the constitution. In interpreting the right to water, the court found that the right empowers local authorities to levy rates to raise revenue for service provision and does not prohibit disconnections of water services for non-payment. Additionally, the court held that the right to water contains the protection against arbitrary and illegal disconnections. Consequently, when a bill is genuinely disputed there should be recourse to the court before disconnection as per s 69 (3) of the constitution and the holding in Mushoriwa v City of Harare HH 195/14.
The court held that the applicant had proved his right to water but failed to prove the genuineness of his claim, since he did not provide proof letters of complaint disputing the bills. This also had a negative bearing on the grant of the interdict order.
The court also found that the applicant converted domestic premises for use as commercial premises and was not entitled to be charged domestic rates.
The court also noted that the applicant failed to give adequate information which would show that the respondent did not follow the correct procedure in zoning and rating it.
Accordingly, the application was dismissed with costs.
The applicant in this High Court case was seeking interim orders that (1) the first and second respondent be ordered to restore the supply of water from Blanket Dam in Gwanda to the applicant’s mine; (2) the first and the second respondent be interdicted from interfering with the applicant’s possession of his water supply infrastructure without obtaining a court order to that effect.
The facts were that the first and second respondent disconnected the water supply that fed the applicants mine and the neighbouring community. The applicants argued that the respondents infringed its right to water under s77 of the Constitution of Zimbabwe. The respondents, on the other side, argued that the matter was not urgent, and they were entitled to disconnect the water supply as the applicant failed to pay the water bills, thereby ending the contract between them.
Thus, the main issue for determination was whether the applicant had satisfied the requirement for an interim order to be issued;
On the first issue, the Court held that the applicant had satisfied the requirements for an interim order which are, (i) prima facie right; (ii) reasonable apprehension of irreparable injury; (iii) no alternative relief available; (iv) and the balance of convenience favouring the granting of the interdict.
As a result, the interim order was allowed pending the main trial and the hearing of the interdict.
The court considered an application to set aside the National Water Authority Regulations and tariffs on the ground that they were ultra vires and violated the applicants’ rights.
The applicants’ business operations involved sugar-cane growing and sugar processing. They concluded two agreements with the Zimbabwe National Water Authority (ZINWA), which related to the supply of water. It was a term of the agreement that the parties would, together, review charges for raw water, and should they fail to agree, the respondent would fix the prices. Subsequently, ZINWA addressed a letter advising the applicants of their intention to review the charges. The respondent unilaterally increased the tariffs and failed to notify the applicants. The respondent argued that in terms of the ZINWA Act, she had the authority to impose tariffs for water charges and that the regulations did not violate the applicants’ rights.
The court considered whether the respondent had acted lawfully in imposing the water tariffs. It found that the government reviewed the water charges, and not ZINWA which was lawfully established to review the tariffs in as far as the applicant was concerned.
The court found that the respondent could not unilaterally increase water tariffs, unless ZINWA had made application to it to justify the increase. In this case, the respondent failed to notify the applicants, nor did she give them an opportunity to respond. The court concluded that the respondent acted ultra vires by increasing the tariffs and her actions were unlawful. Accordingly, the application was upheld
The applicant in this High Court case moved the court to issue an interdict order against the first and second respondent. The applicant needed the court to compel the respondents to restore the supply of water that they had disconnected to the applicantÕs mine. The interim relief had been issued in a previous application, but the applicant additionally sought an order interdicting the respondents from terminating the water supply.
The first and second respondent disconnected the water supply that fed the applicants mine and the neighbouring community. The applicant argument was that the respondents infringed its right to water under s77 of the Constitution of Zimbabwe. The respondents argued that they were entitled to disconnect the water supply as the applicant failed to pay the water bills, thereby ending their contract.
Thus, the issue for determination was whether the applicant satisfied the requirement for an interdict to be issued.
The court held that in the issue of spoliation, it is established in law that for a party to succeed it must show that the party was in peaceful and undisturbed possession. The court was satisfied that the applicant was constitutionally entitled to water supply, and that interference with this right without a court order was unlawful.
As a result, the interdict was allowed pending the main trial.
The matter dealt with an urgent application for an order declaring the first to the fifth respondents, who were the directors of the first respondent, to be in contempt of an order of the court.
The first respondent had failed to comply with an order directing it to continue pumping and extracting underground water from its mine shafts. The first respondent also failed to comply with an order to obey directives from the Director General.
The court considered whether the directives were unintelligible and therefore not capable of being complied with. The court affirmed the principle that one cannot be held in contempt of an order of court, where the order is unclear, ambiguous or incomplete. In the circumstances, if all three directives, which called for information which the applicant needed and an interim contribution towards the funding of pumping operations at affected shafts, were read together then the meaning of the directives were plain. Thus, the court found that the directives could be complied with.
The court considered whether the nature of the previous order was such that contempt proceedings were inappropriate. The approach of our courts has been that civil contempt can only be committed in terms of ad factum praestandum (obligation to fulfil or perform an act). In the circumstances, the directives constituted a statutory injunction and so were an ad factum praestandum. Accordingly, the court held that contempt proceedings were appropriate as the directives could be understood and complied with.
The plaintiff sought orders that it did not owe the defendant for any service, and for a permanent injunction restraining the defendant from interfering with or disconnecting the plaintiff’s water system connected to its borehole due to an outstanding water bill.
The court considered whether it had jurisdiction to hear and determine this suit and application. The provisions of s 85 of the Water Act show that the jurisdiction of the Water Appeals Board is two-fold: first is to hear appeals from decisions and orders of the Water Resources Management Authority, the minister, or the Water Services Regulatory Board concerning a permit or licence. The second jurisdiction of the Water Appeals Board is as is conferred by any law. There was no decision or order on a permit or licence being appealed in this suit and application. Accordingly, the court found that this dispute is not envisaged by s 85(1).
Furthermore, s 85(2) showed that the additional jurisdiction granted to the Water Appeals Board was in fact limited, and it did not have jurisdiction to determine all disputes under the act, but only those disputes where jurisdiction was conferred on it by the Water Act or any other act. No such law was cited by the defendant, to warrant the application of s 85(2). Therefore, the court found that s 85 did not apply to the facts of this suit and application, and that it, therefore, had jurisdiction to determine the matter.
Preliminary objection dismissed.
The court considered and application for an injunction to restrain the defendant from directing storm and waste water into the plaintiff’s dam, or into the neighboring dam.
The defendant had acceded to a request by the members of the community to desilt the dam at the primary school, but as the plaintiff submitted, had failed to conduct an environmental impact assessment before undertaking the rehabilitation of the dam. Further, that the storm water from the defendant’s farm had spilled over to the dam in her parcel of land, thereby polluting it and infringing her right to live in a clean environment.
The issue for determination by this court was whether the plaintiff had established a prima facie case to enable the court to grant her the order of injunction sought.
The court held that the defendant undertook the project before seeking the authority of the National Environmental Management Authority and had therefore not consulted with all parties likely to be affected by the dam in co-ordination with the NEMA, before rehabilitating the dam. Therefore, the defendant breached the law by channeling storm water into the neighboring dam, without first complying with the provisions of the Environmental Management Act and that the plaintiff was within her rights to seek an injunction.