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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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.