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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This case concerned the obligation of public authorities to prevent and remediate damage caused by natural disasters. The applicants argued that the respondents had constitutional and statutory duties to remediate the flooded area and to reasonably prevent future harm. They further contended that the respondents fell short of these duties. This was not contested by the respondents and, in fact, largely confirmed by an internal memo.
The High Court considered whether the application for a mandamus interdict ought to be enforced against the respondents following their alleged failure to remediate significant damage to the applicants as a result of flooding, which led to blocked culverts, exposed them to increased risk of future inundations, as well as increased levels of water pollution.
The court held that the applicants had a constitutional right to a safe environment and that the respondents had legal duties to remediate the flooded area and reasonably prevent future harm. Given that no post-disaster rehabilitative work had been conducted and no explanation for this failure had been provided, the court found that the respondents fell short of their duties. It further held that the constitutional rights of the applicant outweighed any inconvenience for the respondents to fulfill their duties.
Consequently, the court directed the first respondent to immediately remediate the flooded area and to clean the culverts to prevent future damage. The first responded was further ordered to provide the applicants with regular feedback concerning its implementation of the orders.
The plaintiff’s claim against the defendant in this case was that the defendant’s negligent and faulty roofing resulted in a flood that consequently damaged the plaintiff’s restaurant. The parties’ properties were located on a steep hill and shared a boundary. It was alleged that, on account of the defendant’s failure maintain a proper gutter, water was discharged from its roof onto the plaintiff’s property resulting in a flood. The defendant’s only defense was that there was no proof that the water that flowed towards the plaintiff’s restaurant came from the defendant’s restaurant.
The court held that since the onus of proof was on a balance of probability, the plaintiff’s case was clear. The evidence showed that a significant amount of water was discharged from the defendant’s roof due to its ill-fitted gutter towards the plaintiff’s house, which would have otherwise been channeled into a catch pit. The court reasoned that the presumption that the defendant’s poorly fixed gutter led to the flood was proved when soon after the defendant repaired its gutters the floods did not reoccur despite heavy rainfalls in following seasons. The court thus concluded that the defendant’s poorly fitted roofing contributed to the floods. Accordingly, the plaintiff’s claim succeeded.