Litigation and enforcement in South Africa: overview

A Q&A guide to dispute resolution law in South Africa.

The Q&A gives a structured overview of the key practical issues including, for example, court procedures; fees and funding; interim remedies (including attachment orders); disclosure; expert evidence; appeals; class actions; enforcement; cross-border issues; the use of ADR; and any reform proposals.

To compare answers across multiple jurisdictions visit the Litigation and enforcement Country Q&A tool.

The Q&A is part of the global guide to dispute resolution. For a full list of jurisdictional Q&As visit


Main dispute resolution methods

1. What are the main dispute resolution methods used in your jurisdiction to settle large commercial disputes?

The High Court of South Africa (High Court) is the primary forum for adjudicating large commercial disputes (disputes with a commercial value of more than ZAR400,000). Disputes with a lower commercial value are dealt with in the Magistrates Courts. The proceedings in these courts are typically adversarial. In order for a court to find in favour of one party over the other, the successful party must have proved, on a balance of probabilities, their right to the relief sought.

Various forums of alternative dispute resolution (ADR) are used outside or as an addition to formal court proceedings. Mediation and arbitration are the most common. ADR has become popular because of perceived benefits such as confidentiality, expedited and cost-effective proceedings, and the ability to choose the mediator or arbitrator. This has led to the establishment of several ADR bodies such as the Association of Arbitrators and the Arbitration Foundation of South Africa (AFSA).

It has been proposed that the provisions of the Arbitration Act No.42 of 1965 (1965 Act) which govern arbitrations be replaced by two new Arbitration Acts (see Question 35).


Court litigation

Limitation periods

2. What limitation periods apply to bringing a claim and what triggers a limitation period?

The limitation periods are determined by the Prescription Act No.68 of 1969. On expiry of the limitation period, the claim becomes extinguished (prescribed) by the operation of law. The procedures and limitation periods are the same for commercial contracts, delicts (torts) and land disputes.

Money claims must be brought within three years from the date on which the debt became due or the cause of action arose (Prescription Act). There are certain exceptions to this general rule, most of which relate to transactions concluded with the government of South Africa.

The running of a time period is interrupted by the valid issue and service of a summons or other court process.


Court structure

3. What is the structure of the court where large commercial disputes are usually brought? Are certain types of dispute allocated to particular divisions of this court?

Large commercial disputes are usually heard in the appropriate division of the High Court. There are 14 divisions in major commercial centres such as Johannesburg, Pretoria, Durban and Cape Town. Large commercial disputes can also be heard by:

  • The Constitutional Court in Johannesburg, which is mainly used to rule on issues involving the application and interpretation of provisions of the Constitution. In addition, in view of a recent amendment to the Constitution, the Constitutional Court is now the highest appellate court in respect of disputes which raise points of law which are of general public importance.

  • The Supreme Court of Appeal in Bloemfontein, which is the highest appellate court for commercial disputes which do not raise constitutional issues and which are not deemed to raise points of law which are of general public importance by the Constitutional Court.

  • The Admiralty division to deal with maritime disputes.

Although not formally separate divisions of the High Court, the following hear some specific disputes:

  • The Commissioner of Patents. The Commissioner of Patents is a High Court judge who has been designated to hear patent disputes under the Patents Act.

  • The Copyright Tribunal. The Commissioner of Patents also hears copyright licensing disputes in the Copyright Tribunal.

  • The Competition Tribunal. This deals with competition law issues.

  • The Companies Tribunal. This is a newly established body under the Companies Act. Its functions include:

    • adjudicating in relation to any application that may be made to it in terms of the Companies Act; and

    • serving as a forum for the voluntary resolutions of disputes.

  • The National Consumer Tribunal. The National Consumer Tribunal is an adjudicative body established in terms of section 26 of the National Credit Act, 34 of 2005.

South Africa's 1994 Constitution created a constitutional state, which provides that the Constitution is paramount. All laws must be constitutional and cannot, subject to certain limitations, be inconsistent with the Bill of Rights, which forms part of the Constitution. On the basis of the supremacy of the Constitution, courts have the power to nullify unconstitutional legislation. All judgments, except judgments of an interim nature can be appealed if leave to appeal is granted.

The answers to the following questions relate to procedures that apply in the High Court.


Rights of audience

4. Which types of lawyers have rights of audience to conduct cases in courts where large commercial disputes are usually brought? What requirements must they meet? Can foreign lawyers conduct cases in these courts?

Rights of audience/requirements

The South African legal profession is similar to the English one. It has a split bar consisting of attorneys (solicitors) and advocates (barristers). Advocates cannot accept work directly from the public and must be briefed by an attorney who guarantees payment of the advocate's fees. Both attorneys and advocates have a right of audience before the High Court, although attorneys must apply to the Law Society for "rights of appearance". Both an attorney and an advocate must have completed separate courses, a period of practical training and passed admission exams in order to practice. In practice, attorneys usually brief advocates to appear.

Foreign lawyers

Foreign lawyers are generally not able to conduct cases in these courts, except if such foreign lawyers have been admitted to appear in the Republic of South Africa and more importantly in the jurisdiction of the court in which the case is being heard.


Fees and funding

5. What legal fee structures can be used? Are fees fixed by law?

Lawyers' fees are subject to negotiation and are typically based on a rate per day or per hour. There is a "party and party" tariff (see Question 22).

Contingency fees can be arranged subject to guidelines imposed by the Law Society and the Contingency Fees Act No. 66 of 1997.

6. How is litigation usually funded? Can third parties fund it? Is insurance available for litigation costs?


Litigation is usually funded by the parties themselves. Following recent court decisions, third party funding is (on the understanding that the funding party shares in the benefits of a successful claim) lawful and becoming more frequent.


Insurance cover for litigation costs is available through local and foreign insurers.


Court proceedings

7. Are court proceedings confidential or public? If public, are the proceedings or any information kept confidential in certain circumstances?

High Court proceedings are open to the public, while arbitrations and mediations are confidential (see Question 32). The High Court has the discretion to order that proceedings be confidential. However, this happens only in limited circumstances, where the presiding officer considers it to be in the interests of the proper administration of justice (that is, a public hearing would materially hamper or make impractical the administration of justice). This discretion is rarely exercised and, in practice, parties should expect cases to be heard in public.

8. Does the court impose any rules on the parties in relation to pre-action conduct? If yes, are there penalties for failing to comply?

There are no pre-action conduct protocols in court proceedings, apart from claims against the state or any of its organs. In arbitration proceedings, the parties often meet with the arbitrator before the proceedings to attempt to reach an agreement on the manner in which the proceedings are to be conducted. The arbitrator can impose obligations and time constraints on the parties.

9. What are the main stages of typical court proceedings?

Starting proceedings

Proceedings are usually preceded by a letter of demand setting out the claimant's claim. If the defendant does not comply with this demand, the claimant can start civil proceedings either by:

  • Bringing an action. This procedure is used in matters involving a factual dispute. It involves producing evidence (generally involving witnesses giving oral evidence) and culminates in a trial. The action is begun when a summons (or statement of claim) has been issued out of the High Court and served on the defendant.

  • Using the application procedure. This procedure is quicker and more efficient. It is used where there is no factual dispute and only the application of the relevant law is in question. It is deemed to have been started once the following have been issued out of the court and served on the defendant:

    • a notice of motion; and

    • an accompanying witness statement, in the form of an affidavit.

Notice to the defendant and defence

The defendant must be given notice of the claim by having a copy of the summons or notice of motion served on it by the sheriff of the High Court (sheriff) (High Court Rules). The sheriff is a statutory officer and is empowered by legislation to effect service of court processes.

A court process must be served as follows (High Court Rules):

  • If the defendant is an individual, the sheriff must either:

    • deliver a copy of the court process to the defendant personally at his residence, place of business or place of employment;

    • leave a copy of the court process with a person not younger than 16 years of age and apparently in charge of the defendant's residence, place of business or place of employment.

  • If the defendant is a company, the sheriff must deliver a copy of the court process to a responsible employee of the defendant at the defendant's registered address or principal place of business.

In certain circumstances (usually where no qualifying person is present to accept service), the sheriff can effect service by attaching a copy of the court process to the door of the service address.

It is common practice for the parties to large commercial contracts to select an address for the service of court documents, in which case the sheriff can effect service at that address.

Subsequent stages

The High Court Rules provide time limits for the completion of each stage of the proceedings. The parties do not always adhere to these time limits as they commonly grant each other time extensions within which to fulfil their obligations. These time periods can be further extended by interim applications brought by the parties. The main time limits are as follows:

  • Notice of intention to defend. After service of the summons, the defendant has ten court (business) days in which to serve a formal confirmation of its intention to defend the action on the claimant's lawyers. Slightly longer time periods are permitted where summons is served outside of the jurisdiction of the court. If the defendant fails to serve its notice within the time limit, the claimant can immediately apply to the registrar of the High Court (registrar) for default judgment on the terms set out in the claimant's summons. The registrar has the discretion to refuse to grant judgment and can request witness statements or other forms of proof in support of the claim.

  • Plea. After the defendant has served a notice of intention to defend, it must serve a plea (a formal statement of its defence) within 20 court days. If the defendant does not plead with sufficient particularity, the claimant can apply to court for an order directing the defendant to do so. If the defendant fails to deliver a plea, the claimant can apply to the registrar for default judgment. However, the claimant must first serve a notice of bar on the defendant, giving a further period of five court days within which to deliver a plea. This notice serves as a last opportunity for the defendant to deliver a plea, failing which default judgment can be granted against it.

  • Counterclaim. The defendant can include a counterclaim with the plea (also known as a claim in reconvention), to which the claimant has 20 court days to deliver a plea. The counterclaim must be a claim against the claimant (and other persons if necessary and appropriate), but does not need to be limited to the subject matter of the claimant's claim.

  • Replication. If the defendant raises new issues in its plea, the claimant is allowed 15 court days from the date of service of the plea to reply to the plea through a replication. Similarly the claimant is afforded 15 court days within which to plead to any counterclaim.

  • Further pleading. Each party is entitled to a further period of ten court days from the delivery of the replication or plea to the counterclaim to reply to that pleading or any subsequently filed pleading. A reply is only necessary where the other party's pleading raises new issues not previously dealt with.

  • Close of pleadings. This occurs after the last day allowed for the service of a replication or further pleading has expired.

  • Application for a trial date. After close of pleadings, either party can apply for a trial date to be allocated by the registrar. On receipt of the date from the registrar, either party can serve a notice of set-down, formally confirming the date of the trial.

  • Request for further particulars. Prior to the trial the parties exchange replies to and requests for further particulars. This is intended to assist the parties' to understand each other's pleaded issues and to shorten the hearing.

  • Pre-trial procedures. According to High Court Rules, before the hearing, the parties must complete a number of pre-trial procedures, the most important of which is the exchange of relevant documents between the parties (discovery).

  • Pre-trial meeting. The parties must hold a pre-trial conference at least six weeks before the hearing of the matter, at which they must discuss certain issues with the aim of shortening the hearing. These issues include, among others:

    • the possibility of settlement;

    • admissions made by each party;

    • the onus or duty to begin at the hearing of the matter (the general principle is a party that makes an assertion has the duty to prove that assertion, and a corresponding duty to begin proceedings).

Minutes of the pre-trial conference must be filed with the registrar at least five weeks before the hearing. Either party can file the minutes of the pre-trial conference, but in practice it is the claimant who does so.

If, at any stage, a party does not comply with the High Court Rules, the aggrieved party can apply to the court for an order compelling the other party to comply, failing which that party's claim or defence may be dismissed.


Interim remedies

10. What actions can a party bring for a case to be dismissed before a full trial? On what grounds must such a claim be brought? What is the applicable procedure?

Summary judgment

After the defendant has served a notice of intention to defend, a claimant can apply for summary judgment if its claim is one of the following:

  • Based on a liquid document (such as a cheque or acknowledgment of debt).

  • For a liquidated amount of money (that is, an amount capable of objective determination).

  • For the delivery of specified movable property.

  • For ejectment (the eviction of a tenant from a property).

To obtain summary judgment, the claimant must satisfy the High Court that the defendant:

  • Does not have a bona fide defence to the action.

  • Entered a notice of intention to defend solely for the purpose of delay.

The High Court views summary judgment as a harsh remedy and is generally reluctant to grant it unless the claimant has clearly shown the above requirements.

Provisional sentence summons

When suing on a liquid document, a provisional sentence summons may be issued. This compels the defendant to appear before court to admit or deny liability in relation to the liquid document. If the court is satisfied that the defendant is liable in relation to the liquid document, the debtor:

  • Will be ordered to pay the amount set out in the liquid document.

  • Is not permitted to defend the summons until payment has been made.

Application to strike out

There is no procedure through which the defendant can apply to have the claimant's claim struck out in itself. However, the defendant can, in certain circumstances, file an exception, through which it can both:

  • Object to a defect in the pleading of the claim.

  • Request the claimant to amend the claim's wording to remove this defect (for example, where the summons does not disclose a cause of action).

If the claimant does not comply with the defendant's request, the defendant can apply to the High Court for an order compelling the claimant to do so. If the High Court believes that there is merit in the defendant's request, it can grant an order compelling the claimant to remove the defect. If the claimant fails to remove the cause of complaint, the defendant can apply to the High Court for an order dismissing the claim.

An identical procedure is available to the claimant to object to the way in which the defendant's plea is pleaded.

11. Can a defendant apply for an order for the claimant to provide security for its costs? If yes, on what grounds?

If the claimant is foreign, a defendant resident in South Africa can apply to the High Court compelling the foreign claimant to file security for costs. The registrar determines the amount of security, taking into account the party and party costs that are involved in the litigation (see Question 22).

Generally, if the claimant is a resident in South Africa, it is not obliged to file security for costs. However, a court can order a corporate claimant to provide security for costs if there is reason to believe that the corporate claimant will be unable to pay the costs of a defendant which is successful in its defence.

12. What are the rules concerning interim injunctions granted before a full trial?

Availability and grounds

To preserve the situation before trial, a court can grant an interim injunction to either:

  • Prohibit a party from committing a particular act (interdict).

  • Compel a party to carry out a particular act (mandamus order).

These can be made on certain grounds, such as:

  • There is a serious issue to be tried.

  • The balance of convenience favours the grant of an injunction.

  • Damages would not be an adequate remedy.

An interdict or mandamus order is applied for by way of the application procedure, under the rules and time periods set out above (see Question 9, Subsequent stages. The party seeking an injunction must prove on a balance of probabilities that it has prima facie right and it is entitled to relief sought.

Prior notice/same-day

It is usually necessary to notify the defendant of the application. However, the notice requirement is dispensed with if a claimant can demonstrate that notice would prejudice the relief sought. In these circumstances, relief is granted on an interim basis, providing a "return day" on which the defendant is given the opportunity to prove that the interim relief should not be made final. A defendant can bring the return day forward on notice to the claimant.

In urgent matters the court will permit a deviation from the time periods provided in the court rules. The degree of deviation permitted depends on the degree of urgency. A matter must be very urgent for relief to be granted on the same day. Urgent matters are more commonly conducted over the course of a week to two weeks.

Mandatory injunctions

A mandatory order is available to compel a party to carry out a particular act. A South African court has the jurisdiction to grant a mandatory injunction, subject to that court's jurisdictional requirements.

Rights of appeal

The refusal of an interim interdict is appealable. However, the granting of an interim interdict is final and not appealable.

13. What are the rules relating to interim attachment orders to preserve assets pending judgment or a final order (or equivalent)?

Availability and grounds

The availability of interim attachment orders depends on the issues involved. Interim attachment orders are often used where:

  • Tangible assets are disputed.

  • There is a danger of the defendant dissipating monetary assets.

  • There is a reasonable basis to believe that the destruction of evidence may occur.

However, whether the claimant has a right to an attachment order depends on the facts of the case. The party seeking an interim attachment order must prove on a balance of probabilities that it is entitled to relief sought.

Prior notice/same-day

Application without prior notice to the defendant is permitted in exceptional circumstances and only where it can be shown that giving notice would defeat the purpose of the application. However, there are exceptions such as:

  • A Mareva injunction (that is, an order freezing a party's assets).

  • An Anton Piller order (that is, an order preserving evidence where there is fear or risk of destruction).

In appropriate cases, this relief is available on the same day. However, if an ex parte order is granted, the defendant invariably has the right to be heard and can apply to be heard on an urgent basis.

Main proceedings

The main proceedings must be in South Africa for a South African court to grant an interim attachment order. However, it is not essential for the main proceedings to be in the same jurisdiction within South Africa as the court granting an interim attachment order.

Preferential right or lien

An attachment order does not usually create any preferential right or lien in favour of the claimant under the attachment itself.

Damages as a result

If the claimant has obtained an attachment order unlawfully by alleging untrue facts, then it exposes itself to a claim for damages as a consequence.


A claimant does not usually have to provide security, as the right to the attachment in the first place must be based on some entitlement.

14. Are any other interim remedies commonly available and obtained?

Depending on the facts of each particular case, other interim remedies are available such as an:

  • Interdict or a mandamus order (that is, a direction to carry out a particular act).

  • Anton Piller order (that is, a search order).

  • Application to the High Court to enforce compliance with the High Court Rules relating to, for example, the delivery of pleadings and discovery issues.

See also Question 13.


Final remedies

15. What remedies are available at the full trial stage? Are damages just compensatory or can they also be punitive?

The remedies available depend on the cause of action (claims arise either in contract or in delict (tort)) and are:

  • An order for specific performance.

  • Compensatory damages.

A final interdict (that is, a final order prohibiting a party from committing a particular act) is also available to parties as a remedy at full trial stage.

South African law has no concept of punitive damages.

The successful party must prove the incursion of the damages sought on a balance of probabilities.




16. What documents must the parties disclose to the other parties and/or the court? Are there any detailed rules governing this procedure?

The High Court Rules oblige a party to make a full and prompt disclosure of all documents currently or previously in its possession or in the possession of an agent, that are relevant to the issues of the case (except legally privileged documents (see Question 17)). A party is required to make a disclosure within 20 court days from the date of receipt of a written notice from the party requesting the disclosure. If a party fails to comply with a request for disclosure, the applicant may apply to court to compel disclosure, failing which the court may strike out the defence, dismiss the claim or grant the applicant further relief.

There are detailed rules governing this procedure that set out the:

  • Documents required to be disclosed.

  • Stage at which the parties are entitled to request the documents.

  • Form in which the documents can be requested.

  • Remedies for each party if the documents are not disclosed. These remedies include applying to court to compel the disclosure of documents or to compel further and better disclosure of documents that have been disclosed.


Privileged documents

17. Are any documents privileged? If privilege is not recognised, are there any other rules allowing a party not to disclose a document?

Privileged documents

Certain categories of documents are privileged. Communications between a lawyer and his client are strictly privileged. An in-house lawyer's legal advice to his company would be regarded as privileged, but the law is not settled on this issue. Documents prepared in contemplation of or in preparation for litigation are also privileged. A document is not privileged merely because it is written and delivered on the basis that it is confidential.

Other non-disclosure situations

Medical records must not be disclosed without the consent of the patient concerned, unless disclosure is required by law. Where the consent to disclose medical records cannot be obtained, a subpoena must be issued and a court order must be obtained for the disclosure of the records.

Documents "without prejudice"

It is common practice for opposing attorneys to enter into negotiations in an effort to settle pending matters without fear of prejudicing their client’s claim. Any document and/or statement made with the bona fide intent of settling a dispute is not admissible in court proceedings. It is practice that such documents are marked “without prejudice”. However, failure to do so does not render admissible a document which contains bona fide settlement negotiations.


Examination of witnesses

18. Do witnesses of fact give oral evidence or do they just submit written evidence? Is there a right to cross-examine witnesses of fact?

Oral evidence

Witnesses of fact invariably give oral evidence and are subject to cross-examination in trial proceedings. However, in application proceedings no oral evidence is given and evidence is placed before the High Court by way of witness statements, in affidavit form.

Right to cross-examine

The examination of a witness is conducted in three stages, the examination-in chief, cross examination and re-examination. All three stages occur at the trial stage.

See above, Oral evidence.


Third party experts

19. What are the rules in relation to third party experts?

Appointment procedure

The onus for appointing an expert rests on the parties. The courts do not typically appoint experts in commercial disputes. A party wishing to use a third-party expert in court proceedings must deliver a:

  • Notice of its intention to do so to the other party at least 15 court days before the hearing of the matter.

  • Summary of the expert's opinions and the reasons for those opinions to the other party at least ten days before the hearing of the matter.

  • There is no obligation to disclose the appointment of an expert at the disclosure stage.

Role of experts

A party to litigation usually uses expert evidence in the belief that this will assist its case. However, it is the role of the court to determine the value that should be attached to the expert evidence, and it will not blindly accept expert evidence.

Right of reply

As with all witnesses called in court proceedings, the opposing party can cross-examine an expert witness. Cross-examination of an expert witness occurs at the trial. In addition, a party wishing to call expert witnesses must serve a notice and summary, to allow the opposing party to:

  • Call its own expert witness.

  • Counter the evidence.

  • Adequately prepare itself to cross-examine the witness (see above, Appointment procedure).


The party calling the witness usually agrees with that witness to pay his fees. If that party is successful in the main action and is awarded costs, the costs order may include payment of expert fees (see Question 22).



20. What are the rules concerning appeals of first instance judgments in large commercial disputes?

Which courts

In general, appeals from the High Court may be made to a full bench of the High Court which consists of three High Court Judges and from there to the Supreme Court of Appeal and, thereafter, in certain instances to the Constitutional Court. Appeals from the High Court may, in certain instances, be made directly to the Constitutional Court (see Question 3).

Grounds for appeal

There is no automatic right of appeal in large commercial disputes. A dissatisfied party can appeal a first instance judgment, but must have applied for, and been granted, leave to appeal by the High Court. If such a party is not granted leave to appeal, it can petition the Supreme Court of Appeal or, if applicable, the Constitutional Court to grant it leave to appeal. The same also applies with regards to appealing a judgment of the Supreme Court of Appeal to the Constitutional Court.

Time limit

The application for leave to appeal can be made at the end of the trial or within 15 days of the granting of the first instance judgment.


Class actions

21. Are there any mechanisms available for collective redress or class actions?

Constitutional Mandate

The provisions of the Constitution have extended standing in courts to persons and groups. Section 38 of the Constitution states that relief, where a right in the Bill of Rights has been infringed or threatened, can be sought by:

  • Anyone acting in their own interest.

  • Anyone acting on behalf of another person who cannot act in their own name.

  • Anyone acting as a member of, or in the interest of, a group or a class of persons.

  • Anyone acting in the public interest.

  • An association acting in the interest of its members.

Section 38(c), in particular, allows class actions.

Section 38 of the Constitution introduced class action and public interest law suits into South African law, which concepts were not recognised under the common law in respect of the question of locus standi. Section 38(c) in particular, provides that a person may approach a court if he is acting as a member of, or in the interest of, a group or class of persons. The Constitutional provisions lay down a framework for mass litigation suits and, in the absence of statutory provisions fleshing out these provisions, it has been left to the courts to guide the procedural aspects for bringing such an action.

In the seminal case of Children's Resource Center Trust And Others v Pioneer Food (Pty) Ltd And Others 2013 (2) 213 (SCA), the court held that class actions could be sanctioned in cases where a constitutional right is invoked and in instances where a constitutional right is not invoked. The court also set out procedural guidelines that must be met by a party seeking to certify a class action. These considerations include:

  • The existence of a class identifiable by objective criteria.

  • A cause of action raising a triable issue.

  • That the right to relief depends upon the determination of issues of fact, or law, or both, common to all members of the class.

  • That the relief sought, or damages claimed, flow from the cause of action and are ascertainable and capable of determination.

  • That where the claim is for damages there is an appropriate procedure for allocating the damages to the members of the class.

  • That the proposed representative is suitable to be permitted to conduct the action and represent the class.

  • Whether given the composition of the class and the nature of the proposed action a class action is the most appropriate means of determining the claims of the class of members.

These requirements are found in other jurisdictions and are similar to the requirements prescribed by Rule 23 (a) of the US Federal Rules of Civil Procedure. The Constitution Court, in Mukkadam v Pioneer Foods (Pty) Ltd and Others (CCT 131/12) [2013] ZACC 23 held that the test for determining whether a class action should be certified is whether the interests of justice prescribe that a class action should be certified and that the requirements mentioned above must serve as factors to be taken into account in determining where the interests of justice lie in a particular case.

In 1998, the South African Law Reform Commission recommended that statutory guidance in respect of the introduction of class action suits into South African law was needed and published a draft Public Interest and Class Actions Act (PICA). While PICA shed some light on the process in respect of both class actions and public interest actions, as of the date of writing, no legislation has been written into law.

In the absence of legislative guidance, the courts have had to look to foreign jurisprudence. The American method of "opt-out" in respect of class actions proposes that representatives have standing to sue on behalf of a class of unidentified people and that any member of that class has the right to opt-out of the action. This method has often been criticised for being open to abuse by unscrupulous representatives. Contrasted with the European model, which proposes an opt-in approach by which a member of an identified class of persons can chose to opt in on a class action suit. Recent class action certification applications in South Africa have been in respect of opt-in and opt-out class actions.

Funding class actions

Currently, class actions are not funded in any particular way but there appear to be businesses that put up the money to fund class actions. Such contingency fee agreements are subject to the Contingency Fees Act 1997 (see Question 5).



22. Does the unsuccessful party have to pay the successful party's costs and how does the court usually calculate any costs award? What factors does the court consider when awarding costs?

The High Court has a wide discretion in relation to cost orders. The usual order is that the unsuccessful party is liable to pay the successful party's costs, but only that part of the successful party's costs prescribed by the party and party tariff (a task-based tariff that determines the amount recoverable from the unsuccessful party). However, despite an increase in 2013, the party and party tariff is out of line with costs actually incurred on a "lawyer and client" basis, so the successful party pays a substantial part of its own costs. In practice, the successful party rarely recovers more than 30% of actual costs incurred.

A party can offer to settle a claim at any time during the action. This can be done either:

  • On a without prejudice basis. This tender is not taken into account when awarding costs.

  • Formally, by submitting a written tender of settlement to the court. The party tendering the settlement is then protected from any costs incurred after submission of the tender if the claimant is not awarded a sum above the tendered amount. The amount tendered is not disclosed to the court until after the judgment is given.

23. Is interest awarded on costs? If yes, how is it calculated?

Interest is not awarded on costs. However, after a cost award has been made, it constitutes a debt. If a demand is made for payment of the costs awarded and payment is not made, interest accrues at the prescribed rate of interest, which is currently 9% per year (simple interest).


Enforcement of a local judgment

24. What are the procedures to enforce a local judgment in the local courts?

A claimant who has obtained a judgment for a monetary claim is entitled to request the registrar to issue a writ of execution. This allows the claimant to instruct the sheriff to attend at the defendant's premises and demand payment of the judgment. If the defendant fails to pay, the sheriff can attach movable property to the value of the judgment. Immovable property can only be attached by a special court order (which is not difficult to obtain). After an attachment is made, the claimant can instruct the sheriff to sell the property by auction, to raise money up to the value of the judgment.

Certain formalities must be complied with before the claimant can instruct the sheriff to make a sale.

If a claimant obtains a judgment ordering a defendant to perform or refrain from performing a certain act, the claimant instructs the sheriff to serve the court order on the defendant, at which point the defendant must perform or refrain from performing the act.


Cross-border litigation

25. Do local courts respect the choice of governing law in a contract? If yes, are there any areas of law in your jurisdiction that apply to the contract despite the choice of law?

Parties to a contract can state in the contract which law governs it (chosen law). The chosen law governs most aspects of the contract, such as its validity, effect and interpretation. However, certain issues are excluded from the choice of law as they determine whether a valid contract has been concluded. If these factors are not satisfied then a contract, including the choice of law clause, does not exist. Issues that are not governed by the choice of law include the formation, capacity of the parties, formalities and performance of a contract.

A number of South African laws exclude particular foreign laws that would otherwise apply, due to conflict of laws criteria. For example:

  • The Carriage of Goods by Sea Act 1986 provides that the Hague Rules as amended by the Brussels Protocol 1968 (Hague-Visby Rules) must apply to contracts of carriage by sea from a South African port.

  • The Employment Act 1997 contains mandatory provisions that an employer must observe irrespective of the choice of law in an employment contract.

  • Foreign laws that seriously contravene South African public policy cannot be applied in South Africa.

  • Courts do not enforce the revenue laws or the penal laws of another state. To do so would carry out acts of sovereignty on behalf of another state.

  • South African law applies to any act that is illegal in South Africa, even if it is legal in the chosen law of the contract under which the act is performed. Therefore, no contract is enforceable to the extent that it contravenes South African law.

  • South African law governs all questions of procedure (for example, evidence, the execution of judgments and the taxation of costs, but not measure of damages).

26. Do local courts respect the choice of jurisdiction in a contract? Do local courts claim jurisdiction over a dispute in some circumstances, despite the choice of jurisdiction?

A local court exercises jurisdiction in a contractual dispute if the normal basis for jurisdiction exists, even if the parties have agreed that claims will be brought in the courts of a foreign jurisdiction.

A number of South African laws set out situations where the local courts have exclusive jurisdiction. For example, the Bills of Exchange Act 1964 gives South African courts jurisdiction over contracts relating to bills of exchange.

27. If a foreign party obtains permission from its local courts to serve proceedings on a party in your jurisdiction, what is the procedure to effect service in your jurisdiction? Is your jurisdiction party to any international agreements affecting this process?

In these circumstances, the laws of the foreign court in which the proceedings are heard determine the service of documents. For example, if a foreign court requires service to be effected through the local courts, then service is effected through a sheriff. However, if the foreign court accepts service in any other manner, service can be effected locally along the lines directed by the serving party.

28. What is the procedure to take evidence from a witness in your jurisdiction for use in proceedings in another jurisdiction? Is your jurisdiction party to an international convention on this issue?

Evidence can be taken from a witness in South Africa at the request of a foreign court.

South Africa acceded in 1997 to the HCCH Convention on the Taking of Evidence Abroad in Civil and Commercial Matters 1970 (Hague Evidence Convention). However, the Hague Evidence Convention has not been incorporated into South African domestic law. As a result, individuals in South Africa cannot rely on it when seeking to obtain evidence from foreign jurisdictions.

Where a letter of request or commission rogatoire (requesting evidence) is sent to the registrar from a foreign state or court in connection with civil proceedings, the registrar submits the request to a judge in chambers, to give effect to the request (section 40(1), Superior Courts Act No. 10 of 2013). Generally, a magistrate is appointed as the commissioner to take the evidence in question.


Enforcement of a foreign judgment

29. What are the procedures to enforce a foreign judgment in the local courts?

It is possible to enforce foreign civil judgments in South Africa by registering the judgment with a local court under the Enforcement of Foreign Civil Judgments Act 1988. However, the scope of this Act is extremely narrow. The only country whose judgments can be registered in South Africa in terms of the Act is Namibia. In most cases, a claimant wishing to have a foreign judgment enforced in South Africa must apply to a local court for an order recognising the judgment. Once a local court has recognised the judgment, the claimant can obtain a writ of execution and enforce the judgment.

A local court recognises the foreign judgment provided that the following requirements are met:

  • The foreign court which granted the judgment must have "international competency", which means that the defendant must have been domiciled or resident in the jurisdiction of the foreign court or submitted to its jurisdiction when the action was started.

  • The foreign judgment must be final and conclusive.

  • The foreign judgment must not involve the enforcement of a penal or revenue law of a foreign country.

  • The foreign judgment must not be contrary to South African public policy (for example, if it was obtained by fraudulent means or without complying with the principles of natural justice).

  • The foreign judgment must comply with section 1(1) of the Protection of Businesses Act of 1978. This provides that the Minister of Trade and Industry must approve the enforcement of certain foreign judgments, such as those relating to the mining, production, importation, exportation, refinement, possession, use or sale of raw materials.

The only statutory prohibition on the enforcement of certain foreign judgments is section 1(1) of the Protection of Businesses Act of 1978, which provides that the Minister must approve certain foreign judgments as detailed above. No foreign judgment, to which the Act applies, in respect of multiple or punitive damages can be recognised or enforced in South Africa, irrespective of whether or not the Minister has previously indicated that permission would be granted for the enforcement of a foreign money judgment. Multiple or punitive damages are defined in the Act as that part of the amount of damages awarded which exceeds the amount determined by a South African court as compensation for the damage or loss actually sustained.

South African defendants who qualify in terms of the Act may recover assets within the jurisdiction of South African courts multiple or punitive damages awarded against them under foreign anti-trust judgments and enforced against their overseas assets.

No foreign judgment in respect of liability which arises from bodily injury to a person resulting directly or indirectly from the consumption, use or exposure to a natural resource of South Africa may be recognised or enforced in South Africa, irrespective of whether or not the Minister has previously indicated that permission would be given for the enforcement of a foreign money judgment.


Alternative dispute resolution

30. What are the main alternative dispute resolution (ADR) methods used in your jurisdiction to settle large commercial disputes? Is ADR used more in certain industries? What proportion of large commercial disputes is settled through ADR?

The following types of ADR are available:

  • Arbitration. This is an adjudication process under an agreement between the parties to a dispute. It refers that dispute for final determination to an independent and impartial tribunal appointed by or on behalf of the parties. The procedures are very similar to those of a High Court action. The parties are free to agree the rules which apply, such as the rules of any local arbitral body or the High Court Rules.

  • Mediation. This is a dispute resolution process through which a third party acceptable to all parties helps to bring the parties to an agreed solution. The mediator usually has no decision-making powers and cannot impose a binding conclusion or settlement on the parties.

ADR is most often used when parties desire a quicker, more efficient resolution of a dispute than they would get through the courts. ADR is also perceived to be more cost-effective and has the added benefit of being confidential.

The Arbitration Act 1965 regulates arbitration proceedings. If the parties have agreed to arbitration in writing, the Act permits a party to apply to the court to stay legal proceedings instituted in relation to the subject matter falling within the scope of the written arbitration agreement. The Act also provides:

  • For certain arbitration rules which apply in the absence of agreement to the contrary.

  • A mechanism for the enforcement of arbitral awards.

ADR is not used more in certain industries, although the Building Industry Federation of South Africa has its own panel of arbitrators available to its members in the construction industry. Although there are no statistics for the number of disputes that are settled or finalised through ADR, ADR has become popular in recent years particularly for large commercial disputes.

31. Does ADR form part of court procedures or does it only apply if the parties agree? Can courts compel the use of ADR?

ADR does not form part of court procedures and only applies if the parties agree to it.

The courts will generally compel the use of ADR where such mechanisms have been agreed contractually between the parties. There is currently a proposal to compel parties to mediate their disputes upon the institution of a claim in the High Court. However, as at the date of writing, this proposal had not been implemented.

The Magistrates’ Court Mediation Rules came into effect on 1 December 2014. Under the rules, certain designated Magistrates' Courts can enquire into the possibility of mediation of the dispute and the parties can refer their dispute to mediation. However, the court cannot compel the use of mediation.

32. How is evidence given in ADR? Can documents produced or admissions made during (or for the purposes of) the ADR later be protected from disclosure by privilege? Is ADR confidential?

In arbitration proceedings, evidence is usually given orally. During the arbitration process, parties do make disclosures. Such disclosures are not privileged unless they are privileged by the law of general application. The parties usually agree that the arbitrator can rule on the manner in which evidence can be placed before the arbitrator. This enables evidence to be given by witness statements in certain circumstances.

In mediation proceedings, no evidence is usually given, as the procedure is designed to help the parties to reach an agreement between themselves. Documents produced or admissions made during mediation proceedings are usually privileged, since they form part of a settlement process. Mediation proceedings are usually confidential.

The arbitration hearing itself is invariably confidential. The award is also confidential, unless a party applies to the court to have the arbitral award made an order of the High Court under the Arbitration Act.

33. How are costs dealt with in ADR?

In mediation proceedings, unless the parties agree otherwise, the parties pay for their own costs and share the mediator's fees equally between themselves.

In arbitration proceedings, costs are typically dealt with in the same way as in the High Court. The unsuccessful party is usually ordered to pay the other party's costs on a party and party basis (see Question 22).

34. What are the main bodies that offer ADR services in your jurisdiction?

The Arbitration Foundation of South Africa and the Association of Arbitrators are the main arbitration bodies.

Mediation and non-arbitration ADR bodies also exist, an example is Tokiso Dispute Settlement. Pre-trial mediation is becoming more popular in South Africa.

Arbitration Foundation of Southern Africa

AFSA was founded in 1996 and is based in Sandton, Johannesburg with branches throughout South Africa. AFSA offers services such as arbitrations, mediations and a fully administered dispute resolution service. AFSA maintains panels of experts and offers disputing parties a choice of rules depending on the size and complexity of each matter.

AFSA contact details.

T +27 11 320 0600
F +27 11 320 0533

Association of Arbitrators

The Association of Arbitrators (Southern Africa) was formed in 1979 with the objective of promoting arbitration as a method of resolving disputes between parties. The Association of Arbitrators has competent and experienced arbitrators in order to efficiently discharge its duties.

Association of Arbitrators contact details.

T +27 11 884 9164
F +27 11 884 9167

Tokiso Dispute Settlement

Tokiso has more than ten years experience in independent conflict management. It offers arbitration, mediation and facilitation services. Tokiso has a panel of more than 250 professional mediators and arbitrators in all provinces of South Africa as well as panellists in the UK, Mozambique, Canada and Australia.

Tokiso contact details.

T +27 11 853 6300
F +27 86 646 8409

Proposals for reform

35. Are there any proposals for dispute resolution reform? If yes, when are they likely to come into force?

It has been recognised that the 1965 Act (see Question 1) does not meet all the needs of an international arbitration. The South African Law Commission proposed two new Arbitration Acts in the mid to late 1990s, namely the International Arbitration Act and the Domestic Arbitration Act. However, these Acts are unlikely to be promulgated considering the length of time that has elapsed.


Online resources

Official Government of the Republic of South Africa


Description. The South African government website offers access to legislation and regulations promulgated after 1990.



Description. The website offers free access to South African legislation and policy documents, published by independent publisher Creamer Media.

South African Law Reform Commission (SALRC)


Description. The SALRC provides access to proposed legislation and reports detailing proposed amendments. It is published by the Department of Justice and maintained fairly regularly.

Southern African Legal Information Institute (SAFLII)


Description. SAFLII offers access to case law decided by the Higher Courts of South Africa. It also publishes the rules regulating the conduct of proceedings in the courts and is updated regularly.

Contributor profiles

Perusha Pillay-Shaik

Bowman Gilfillan

T +27 11 669 9000
F +27 11 669 9001

Professional qualifications. South Africa, 2006

Areas of practice. Commercial litigation; ADR.

Recent transactions

  • Represented a London/Johannesburg dual-listed coal mining house in a number of commercial disputes including:
    • large share sale dispute;
    • arbitrations relating to various matters including a damages claim;
    • mediation proceedings.
  • Represented one of the country's largest beverage manufacturers in commercial and contractual disputes applicable across its range of operations.
  • Represented a listed gold mining house in a dispute relating to lifetime funding of the medical aid requirements of its employees.
  • Currently representing a state owned entity in what is reported to be the largest class action ever brought in South Africa.
  • Represented a multinational product manufacturer in arbitration proceedings.

Languages. English, Afrikaans


  • International Trade and Commercial Transactions Global Guide, Practical Law Company, Thomson Reuters.

  • Encyclopaedia of International Commercial Litigation, Kluwer Law International BV, Netherlands.

Clement Mkiva

Bowman Gilfillan

T +27 11 669 9000
F +27 11 669 9001

Professional qualifications. South Africa, 2011

Areas of practice. Commercial litigation; ADR.

Recent transactions

  • Represented a London/Johannesburg dual-listed coal mining house in a number of commercial disputes including:
    • large share sale dispute;
    • arbitrations relating to various matters including a damages claim;
    • mediation proceedings.
  • Represented one of the country's largest beverage manufacturers in commercial and contractual disputes applicable across its range of operations.
  • Represented a listed gold mining house in a dispute relating to lifetime funding of the medical aid requirements of its employees.
  • Represented one of the country’s largest commercial banks in various commercial and contractual disputes.
  • Represented a large multinational commercial bank in various commercial disputes.
  • Currently representing a state owned entity in what is reported to be the largest class action ever brought in South Africa.
  • Currently representing a pension fund in a large contractual dispute relating to life insurance premiums.
  • Representing a large broadcaster in various litigation proceedings.
  • Represented a multinational product manufacturer in arbitration proceedings.

Languages. English, Afrikaans, isiXhosa, isiZulu, Sotho, Tswana


  • International Trade and Commercial Transactions Global Guide, Practical Law Company, Thomson Reuters.

  • Encyclopaedia of International Commercial Litigation, Kluwer Law International BV, Netherlands.

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