Domestic Case Law

Govender v. Ragavayah High Court of South Africa: Durban and Coast Local Division (2008)

Harmful traditional practices, Property and inheritance rights

The applicant was a woman married according to Hindu rites. Accordingly, when her husband died intestate, his parents stood to inherit his estate. The applicant sought a declaratory judgment that the word “spouse” as used in the Intestate Succession Act 81 of 1987 includes a surviving partner to a monogamous Hindu marriage. The Court granted the declaratory judgment and held that the applicant was entitled to inherit from her deceased husband.

Die aansoeker was 'n vrou wat volgens Hindoe tradisie getroud is. Haar man het intestaat gesterf en gevolglik het sy ouers die reg gestaan om sy boedel te erf.  Die applikant het 'n verklarende uitspraak aangevra dat die woord "gade" ingesluit word soos in die Intestaat se Erfreg Wet 81 van 1987, as 'n oorlewende vennoot vir 'n monogame Hindoe-huwelik. Die hof het die verklarende uitspraak toegestaan dat die aansoeker geregtig was om van haar oorlede man te erf.

Ekhamanzi Springs Ltd. v. Mnomiya Labor Appeal Court of South Africa (2014)

Employment discrimination, Gender discrimination

The respondent was employed by the appellant to bottle Aquelle spring water. The appellant’s plant was located on property belonging to a religious mission, and to gain access to the workplace, the appellant’s employees had to cross the mission’s property. The mission’s security guards were instructed to bar entry to any persons who did not comply with its code of conduct; one provision, for example, prohibited “amorous relationships between any two persons outside of marriage”. The respondent and a colleague were denied access because they became pregnant outside of marriage. Consequently, the respondent and her colleague were not able to access the workplace, as they were refused access to the mission’s property. They were subsequently fired. The court ruled that the dismissal of the respondent employee was automatically unfair because she had been dismissed for her pregnancy. The court noted that all persons have a constitutional right to equality. Discriminatory dismissals, such as this one, are accordingly automatically unfair and higher compensation is allowed in such cases. Employers are obliged to avoid discriminating against employees directly or indirectly  ̶  protection against being discriminated against on the ground of pregnancy is not a preserve of married women. An agreement that denies pregnant employees access to the workplace is accordingly prima facie unenforceable unless it can be justified on grounds consistent with constitutional norms. The mission’s code of conduct interfered with the employment relationship between the appellant and its employees and created a situation in which breaches could lead to dismissal. Such provisions blurred the line between the appellant’s terms and conditions of employment and the mission’s code.  That the employee was not a party to the mission’s code proved decisive. As lessee, the appellant had legal remedies to compel the mission to allow full use and enjoyment of the leased property. The appellant’s faint plea of operational necessity could not serve as a defense because it had failed to exercise its rights as lessee to protect its pregnant employees. The employee had tendered her services, and the appellant’s refusal to accept the tender constituted a breach of contract. The court further held that the appellant’s acquiescence in the mission’s discriminatory practice of barring unwed pregnant women from the leased premises violated the appellant’s constitutional duty to treat its employees fairly and was a breach of its common law duty to accept the employees into service. The court, therefore, confirmed that the employee had been dismissed and that her dismissal was automatically unfair. The court also confirmed the remedy of 12 months’ compensation.