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 was an appeal to the High Court against the decision of a magistrate to dismiss the appellant’s claim which concerned a dispute over a customary piece of land. While the appellant stated that the part of the land in dispute was his, the respondent maintained otherwise.
The issue for determination was whether the land belonged to the respondent or the appellant. The court held that in civil cases, the evidence was on a balance of probability. As such, the respondent’s evidence that he was the one given the land by the chief carried more weight and was therefore convincing. The court further held that customary lands were owned communally, which meant that the chief did not own the land as his belonging. Therefore, the court stated that the chief did not have the power to deprive one person of land and give it to another. In conclusion, the court upheld the decision of the court below and accordingly dismissed the appeal.
This was an appeal against a decision of a magistrate to dismiss the appellant’s claim over a piece of customary land which he claimed was unlawfully in the possession of the second respondent, his son. The appellant had left the village for a long time and upon returning found that the first respondent had constructed a home on his land. The appellant instructed the first respondent to vacate land but he refused and proceeded to sell the land to the second respondent. The appellant told the court below that he inherited the piece of land from his father. The lower court found that the appellant had failed to adduce enough evidence to show that the land belonged to him.
The court had to determine the following: which party had the right of occupation of the land; whether the land was lawfully transferred to the second respondent and whether a permanent injunction could be granted restraining the appellant or the respondents from interfering with the land in question.
The court held that although the land had been given to the first respondent customarily, chiefs must be guided by the law specifically, the Constitution and it was against the law to deprive any person the right to use and occupy customary land without any justification at law. It held that indefinite individual usage and occupation of customary land was therefore permissible under the laws of Malawi and the subsequent transfer was legal. Accordingly, the court upheld the lower court ruling.