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 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.