The Commercial Case Law Index is a collection of judgments from African countries on topics relating to commercial legal practice. The collection aims to provide a snapshot of commercial legal practice in a country, rather than present solely traditionally "reportable" cases. The index currently covers 400 judgments from Uganda, Tanzania, Nigeria, Ghana and South Africa.
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-matter expert postgraduate students from the University of Cape Town.
This case dealt with a claim for wages of a ship’s crew members for having been kept hostage by Somali pirates. This case illustrated the similarities between Indian and South African maritime law.
The crisp issue before this court was whether at the time of the second appellant’s arrest at the respondent’s instance, there existed a maritime lien for crew’s wages entitling the respondent to arrest the second appellant by way of an in rem arrest in terms of s 3(4)(a) of the Admiralty Jurisdiction Regulation Act. The court held that a maritime lien is a maritime claim that constitutes one of the bases upon which a claimant may found an action in rem. It also confers a certain preference in ranking of claims.
The court considered the two-pronged enquiry into the existence of a maritime lien, Firstly, on a prima facie basis, whether the respondent had established the existence and nature of the claims sought to be enforced in rem against the second appellant. Secondly, the court had to determine whether the respondent prima facie established claims which, by reason of their nature and character, were protected by maritime lien in South African law.
The court was satisfied that there was no obligation on the second appellant to pay crew’s wages as these payments. The court reasoned that there had been a supervening event that caused the fulfillment of the crew’s employment contracts impossible. Therefore, there was no claim for unpaid wages giving rise to a maritime lien enforceable by an action in rem. Accordingly, the court upheld the appeal and ordered that the deemed arrest be set aside.
The court considered whether a licensing agreement concluded between the parties, granting certain rights for a period of 5 years, amounted to a merger in terms of s 12(1) of the Competition Act 89 of 1998 (the act).
The focus was on whether the transaction would lead to structural changes in the market, thus, whether there is a reasonable chance that the transaction could impact on a competitive market outcome. It was argued that the transaction amounted to a transfer of the second respondent’s business, thus an acquisition of control. The court considered what is the appropriate test for acquiring or establishing direct or indirect control over the whole or part of the business for another was. Thus, in line with USA academic Professor Herbet Hovenkamp’s ‘Hovenkamp test’, the component of the business which was transferred must have constituted part of the business of the transferor, which has now been placed under direct or indirect control of the transferee.
The court held that, there had been no transfer of productive capacity which would amount to the transfer of market share, indicating that the transfer of the business could not have taken place within the realm of the license agreement. The court ordered that the commission was to give a report ascertaining whether there had been a change of control, and if it had, then the matter was referred back to the tribunal for determination.
The court held that, there was nothing in the agreement which amounted to a merger as defined in terms of the act. Appeal upheld.
Competition - prohibited practices - quantifying a damages claim based on the finding of a tribunal
This case presented the first instance where South African labour courts were called to determine the relationship between a garden leave clause and a post termination restraint of trade clause where a contract of employment contained both.
The court considered whether the applicant had waived its right to enforce the notice period by terminating the first respondent’s employment with immediate effect and the reasonableness of the duration restraining the commercial activity of the first respondent in the garden leave clause and/or the post termination restraint clause.
The court held that the applicant was entitled to enforce the period of the garden leave and the post termination restraint of trade clause. The court adopted the rule that a garden rule provision should be taken into account when determining the reasonableness of the restraint duration. The court also took into account the seniority of the first respondent that exposed him to confidential knowledge of the applicant’s business and held that the cumulative restraint period of 12 months was reasonable.
Accordingly, the court granted the application and declared that the first respondent’s contract of employment terminated on 30 June 2016 and that he was restrained from disclosing any confidential information or engaging in any commercial activities with competitors until 31 December 2016.
This case developed common law to hold an employer liable where one of its employees is sexually harassed by a senior employee.
The court considered the employer’s liability in tort for sexual harassment of its junior employee by a senior employee. The court held that the first and second respondent were jointly and severally liable for the damages suffered by the plaintiff as a result of sexual assault perpetrated against her.
The court applied the rule that an employer is vicariously liable for the actions of its employee when an unlawful act is connected to the conduct authorised by the employer. The court held that the first respondent placed the second respondent in a senior position of trust and thus had the responsibility of ensuring that the second respondent was capable of that trust. This trust created the causal link between the second respondent and the wrongful act and that the employment relationship facilitated the sexual harassment.
The court also found the first respondent liable for imposing a two-week suspension as opposed to dismissing the second respondent for sexual harassment of a younger subordinate.
Accordingly, the court granted the application for damages in the sum of R4 million jointly and severally from the first and second defendant.