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.
Read also JIFA's Environmental Country Reports for SADC
The plaintiff instituted an action in the High Court for the eviction of the defendants from a piece of land. The plaintiff alleged that the defendants were carrying on mining operations at the site without holding a mining lease or a mining licence issued in terms of the Mining Rights Act 43 of 1967, hence acting illegally.
It was common cause that the defendants had not been granted a mining lease or a mining licence by the Mining Board. The defendants argued that the plaintiff did not have locus standi to bring an action of eviction because it did not own the land and that there was a likelihood that granite stone was not a base mineral that fell within the definition in the act.
The judge’s view was that granite stone fell within the definition of a base mineral and the defendants were therefore undertaking a mining operation requiring a lease or licence under the act. The court further held that the defendants held a bogus land grant from the chief. It also found that under s 2 of the Mineral Rights Act the right to minerals in any land were vested in the "Basotho Nation". The judge concluded that the case was not one between landlord and tenant but between landlord (or landowner) and squatter in a situation governed by a unique and unusual land law. Accordingly, a summary judgment was entered for the plaintiff as prayed.
This High Court case concerned an appellant that had been convicted for contravening section 87(1) of the Land Act of 1979. The charge was that the accused (now appellant) did unlawfully and intentionally occupy land without proper authority. The appellant held the land and had agricultural license. When the land was declared urban land, the appellant continued to farm it, hence the accusation.
The main issue to be determined on appeal was whether the appellant was occupying the land in contravention of criminal code after the land was declared urban land.
The High Court held that the appellant did not contravene any
criminal code since the commissioner for land did not take steps required in law to nullify the pre-existing licenses. In that view, since the license held by the appellant was still intact even after declaring the land urban, the appellant was lawfully occupying the land.
The appeal was, therefore, upheld.
This matter dealt with an appeal against a decision of the High Court dismissing the appellant’s claim for a declaration of rights over land and the setting aside of a directive made by the minister. The appellant had contended in the lower court that the act was only applicable to agricultural land and was not intended to relate to land within a proclaimed township.
The main issues for the court’s consideration were whether the land in question fell within the scope of the minister’s powers under the act and whether these powers were lawfully exercised.
The court established that the wording of the act was clear, and that the extent of the minister’s power did not cover non-agricultural land. The court concluded that the decision of the minister should have been set aside. The court stated further that the powers under s 31A of the Environment Conservation Act 73 of 1989 were not to be applied without the procedure set out in the act. Therefore, in the absence of compliance with these procedures, the minister’s decision was invalid. Accordingly, the court upheld the appeal with costs to the appellant.
Jafta JA in a dissenting judgment held that the procedure set out in the act dealt mainly with procedural fairness and was not a prerequisite for the exercise of the minister’s powers. He concluded that the procedural aspects if applied in this context would defeat the purpose of the powers under s 31A of the act, to protect the environment.
This was an appeal against a decision of the High Court to hold the appellants in contempt of an order of the Minister of Water Affairs and Forestry, issued to the mining companies concerned under s 19(3) of the National Water Act 36 of 1998.
The appellants contended the directives were incapable of implementation because they were so vague. Consequently, the respondent obtained orders from court a quo, compelling the appellant to provide an amount of money as contribution to execute the ministerial order. Following the order, the appellant failed to pay the money. As a result, the appellants applied to have the appellants for contempt.
The main issue for the court’s consideration was whether an order of the court ordering money to be paid could raise a question of contempt. In overruling the decision of court below, the supreme court stated that it was only where performance of an act was ordered – ad factum praestandum – that conviction for contempt of court was permitted as a means of enforcing performance. It held that contempt proceedings were therefore inappropriate in the circumstances. In conclusion, the court stated that an order that a person was in contempt of court, which carries with it criminal sanctions, should be made only where the court order allegedly flouted was clear and capable of enforcement. Accordingly, the appeal was upheld.
This case concerned parties who had competing interests (one being a luxury tourist lodge and the other one was a copper mine) over the same piece of land. They were undergoing litigation, which included a pending action before another court, in which the first and second respondent were seeking the eviction of the applicant from the property which they sold to the applicant in 2002.
The court considered an application to review and set aside a decision to grant the second respondent an environmental clearance certificate, as well as an interdict restraining them from taking any further action from using the mining rights already granted.
The applicant had earlier stated that they would launch urgent proceedings once they become aware that first and second respondent intend commencing mining activities. However, subsequent communication showed that there were no imminent mining activities. On this basis, the court found that the matter was not inherently urgent, and the application was therefore struck from the roll.
This was a mediation report regarding an action commenced by the plaintiffs against the installation of a water pump and other construction works on what was believed to be customary land. The plaintiffs sought to restrain the defendant from interfering with their customary rights on the land. They contended that the water pump installation plan violated their right to the use and enjoyment of their customary land. The matter was set for mediation.
The issue for resolution was whether the project interfered with the customary land held by the plaintiffs.
An agreement was reached by the parties to the effect that the project was located in an intersection of the road reserve which was public land pursuant to the Waterworks Act and that the defendants had obtained the requisite authority to install the water pump and related works. The proposed construction of the water pump was therefore not in violation of any customary rights for as long as it was restricted within the road reserve. Accordingly, the matter was resolved.
The matter dealt with a dispute among the parties in connection with the breaching of the uMfolozi River mouth which affected sugar cane farming in the area around the iSimangaliso Wetland Park, a World Heritage site. The applicants asserted the following: their entitlement to breach the uMfolozi river mouth to alleviate back-flooding by virtue of a Water Use Certificate issued to them by the second respondent in 2012; the failure of the first respondent to comply with constitutional principles of co-operative governance, and the norm of artificially breaching the uMfolozi river mouth.
The court observed that the relief sought was declaratory in nature and not dependent on an established right. This, it held was contrary to the legal principle that when declaratory relief is sought, it is incumbent upon the applicant to demonstrate that it has legal interest in the relief and set out the facts to sustain the legal interest asserted. The court observed that interested parties, not joined in the application, were going to have their rights affected by the relief sought, so the water use entitlement claimed by applicants was flawed and unenforceable. Although applicants may have established a water use right, this right was limited by territorial limits regulated in the water use certificate therefore, it could not be enforced against first respondent. The court held further that the first respondent had not breached the principles of co-operative governance as an inter-governmental task team had been put in place. Accordingly, the application was dismissed with costs.
The court considered an application for mandamus to compel the government, the first respondent, to disclose agreements relating to the purchase of power, among others. The first respondent and Ethiopia entered into negotiations to develop a power plant. The petitioners argued that by agreeing to purchase electricity from Ethiopia, the respondents were acting in a manner that would deprive members of the affected communities of their livelihood, lifestyle and cultural heritage.
The court considered the following: whether it had jurisdiction to intervene and address the issues; whether the rights of the petitioners had been infringed; and what the respondents’ obligations were. The court held that the subject matter of the petition was an agreement between two sovereign states and the violations of rights were transboundary, thus giving the court jurisdiction to hear the matter.
It stated that the right to life, dignity, economic and social rights were indivisible and would have an adverse impact on the petitioners’ livelihood should the power plant be developed. However, without concrete evidence, the court could not find that their rights were violated. In terms of the access to environmental information, the court held that the State was obliged to encourage public participation, which was only possible if the public had all the information. The court found that the respondents ought to have conducted an environmental impact assessment to ensure that the project would not harm the public. Thus, their right to information was infringed. Accordingly, the court granted the order of a mandamus.
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 petitioners in this matter contented that since 1998, the fourth and fifth respondents had played excessively loud music at night thus causing the petitioners and other residents sleepless nights. The respondents operated an entertainment spot located near a residential area and learning institutions and whose main entertainment menu was the playing of very loud music. The petitioners alleged that the noise interfered with their peace and quiet enjoyment of their properties and violated their right to a clean and healthy environment.
In order to prove that the noise and vibration levels from the respondent’s restaurant were excessive, the petitioners used self-made instruments that were not approved by a relevant lead agency or any person appointed by the National Environmental Management Authority.
This was against the requirements of the Environmental Management and Coordination Act. Therefore, the petition had to fall, although the learned Judge noted that the petitioners had a noble claim.
The matter dealt with a petition of appeal arising out of a dispute over the destruction of the respondent’s crops by wild animals that entered the respondent’s farm.
The court considered whether s3A(l) of the Wildlife Act, imposed liability on the appellant to compensate for loss or destruction of crop. The court held that s3A(l) imposed a duty on the appellant to protect the crops from destruction by wildlife and compensate for destruction.
The court considered whether there is a common law obligation under the principle in Donoghue v Stevenson 1932 SC (HL) 31 and the rule in Ryland v Fletcher  LR 1Ex 265 on the appellant to compensate for damage or destruction caused by wildlife. The court found that neither were applicable to the present matter based on the facts of the case.
The court considered whether damage caused by migrating wildlife is an act of God. Consideration must be given to the question whether the event was reasonably foreseeable. Migration of wildlife is an annual occurrence thus, foreseeable and so not an act of God.
The court considered whether the government ought to be liable for destruction by wildlife. Factually, the appellant had the duty of control of the wildlife because of s3A of the Wildlife Act and so the court held that liability for the damage fell on the appellant.
Court of Appeal judgment upheld.
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 Supreme Court case revolved around a compromise agreement between the fourth respondent and the appellant. The fourth respondent, a registered mining company, was going bankrupt and its management was entrusted to the liquidator. The liquidator then granted the appellant the right to treat stockpiles of ore at the mine to raise money to pay the creditors. The appellant then attempted to have all mining activities registered under its name. In doing so, the appellant misrepresented the facts to the third respondents without involving the fourth respondent stating that it paid the creditors their dues and as such, it was entitled to have mining activities registered under its name. However, the fourth respondent succeeded in establishing that the appellant was lying. This led the third respondent to cancel the appellant’s falsely obtained mineral rights. The High Court agreed with the respondents that the appellant's mineral rights over the plot in dispute were justifiably cancelled. The appellant felt aggrieved by the court’s judgement and appealed to the Supreme Court.
The issue for determination was whether the appellant was allowed to register mining rights under its name and whether the third respondent erred in cancelling its rights.
The Supreme Court held that agreements cannot be valid if consent was obtained through misrepresentation. Consequently, it found that the appellant was unjustified and supported the third respondent’s decision to cancel the falsely obtained rights.
This High Court case concerned an application for review in which the applicant sought an order that the third respondentÕs decision cancelling the applicants mining registration be set aside.
The dispute arose between the applicant and the second respondent allegedly due to a double allocation of the same mining area to the applicant and the first respondent. The third respondent convinced that there was a double allocation cancelled the applicants mining rights to the extent that their boundaries were overlapping. His reasoning was that the first respondent was the first to be allocated the disputed area. The applicant was dissatisfied with the decision and hence applied for a review to the High Court.
The issue for determination by the Court was thus whether the third respondentÕs decision was justified. The Court held that since the matter was first decided in the Mining CommissionerÕs Court, the appeal was supposed to be directed to the High Court per s361 of the Mines and Minerals Act of 1961 and not to the Minister. The High Court thus held that the entire proceeding, and the decision that followed it, was a nullity.
As such, the determination by the third respondent cancelling the applicantÕs Mining registration certificate held by the applicant was set aside with cost.