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 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.