Transparency of the Regulatory System
South African laws and regulations are generally published in draft form for stakeholders to comment, and legal, regulatory, and accounting systems are generally transparent and consistent with international norms.
The dti is responsible for business-related regulations. It develops and reviews regulatory systems in the areas of competition, standards, consumer protection, company and intellectual property registration and protections, as well as other subjects in the public interest. It also oversees the work of national and provincial regulatory agencies mandated to assist the dti in creating and managing competitive and socially responsible business and consumer regulations. The dti publishes a list of Bills and Acts that govern the dti’s work at http://www.dti.gov.za/business_regulation/legislation.jsp .
The 2015 Medicines and Related Substances Amendment Act authorized the creation of the South African Healthcare Products Regulatory Authority (SAHPRA), meant in part to address the backlog of more than 7000 drugs waiting for approval to be used in South Africa. Established in 2018, and unlike its predecessor, the Medicines Control Council (MCC), SAHPRA is a stand-alone public entity governed by a board that is appointed by and accountable to the South African Ministry of Health. SAHPRA is responsible for the monitoring, evaluation, regulation, investigation, inspection, registration, and control of medicines, scheduled substances, clinical trials and medical devices, in vitro diagnostic devices (IVDs), complementary medicines, and blood and blood-based products. SAHPRA intends to do this through 207 full-time in-house technical evaluators, though this structure has not been fully staffed. Unlike with the MCC, SAHPRA’s funding is provided by the retention of registration fees. Despite its launch in 2018, the full staffing and implementation of SAPHRA is anticipated to take up to five years, and clearing the backlog of drug registration dossiers will also take significant time.
South Africa’s Consumer Protection Act (2008) went into effect in 2011. The legislation reinforces various consumer rights, including right of product choice, right to fair contract terms, and right of product quality. Impact of the legislation varies by industry, and businesses have adjusted their operations accordingly. A brochure summarizing the Consumer Protection Act can be found at: http://www.dti.gov.za/business_regulation/acts/CP_Brochure.pdf . Similarly, the National Credit Act of 2005 aims to promote a fair and non-discriminatory marketplace for access to consumer credit and for that purpose to provide the general regulation of consumer credit and improves standards of consumer information. A brochure summarizing the National Credit Act can be found at: http://www.dti.gov.za/business_regulation/acts/NCA_Brochure.pdf
International Regulatory Considerations
South Africa is a member of the Southern African Customs Union (SACU), the oldest existing customs union in the world. SACU functions mainly on the basis of the 2002 SACU Agreement which aims to: (a) facilitate the cross-border trade in goods among SACU members; (b) create effective, transparent and democratic institutions; (c) promote fair competition in the common customs area; (d) increase investment opportunities in the common customs area; (e) enhance the economic development, diversification, industrialization and competitiveness of member States; (f) promote the integration of its members into the global economy through enhanced trade and investment; (g) facilitate the equitable sharing of revenue arising from customs and duties levied by members; and (h) facilitate the development of common policies and strategies.
The 2002 SACU Agreement requires member States to develop common policies and strategies with respect to industrial development; cooperate in the development of agricultural policies; cooperate in the enforcement of competition laws and regulations; develop policies and instruments to address unfair trade practices between members; and calls for harmonization of product standards and technical regulations.
SACU member States are working to develop the regional industrial development policy to harmonize competition policy and unfair trade practices. Progress is limited in general to customs related areas, mainly tariff and trade remedies. SACU has not harmonized non-tariff measures. Also, the 2002 SACU Agreement is limited to the liberalization of trade in goods and does not cover trade in services. In 2008, the SACU Council of Ministers agreed that new generation issues such as services, investment, and Intellectual Property Rights should be incorporated into the SACU Agenda. Work is ongoing. South Africa is generally restricted from negotiating trade agreements by itself, since SACU is the competent authority.
In general, South Africa models its standards according to European standards or UK standards where those differ.
South Africa is a member of the WTO and attempts to notify all draft technical regulations to the Committee on Technical Barriers to Trade (TBT), though often after the regulations have been implemented.
In November 2017, South Africa ratified the WTO’s Trade Facilitation Agreement. According to the government, it has implemented over 90 percent of the commitments as of February 2018. The outstanding measures were notified under Category B, to be implemented by the indicative date of 2022 without capacity building support and include Article 3 and Article 10 commitments on Advance Rulings and Single Window.
The South African Government is not party to the WTO’s Government Procurement Agreement (GPO).
Legal System and Judicial Independence
South Africa has a mixed legal system composed of civil law inherited from the Dutch, common law inherited from the British, and African customary law, of which there are many variations. As a general rule, South Africa follows English law in criminal and civil procedure, company law, constitutional law, and the law of evidence, but follows Roman-Dutch common law in contract law, law of delict (torts), law of persons, and family law. South African company law regulates corporations, including external companies, non-profit, and for-profit companies (including state-owned enterprises). Funded by the national Department of Justice and Constitutional Development, South Africa has district and magistrates courts across 350 districts and high courts for each of the provinces (except Limpopo and Mpumalanga, which are heard in Gauteng). Often described as “the court of last resort,” the Supreme Court of Appeals hears appeals, and its jurisprudence may only be overruled by the apex court, the Constitutional Court. Moreover, South Africa has multiple specialized courts, including the Competition Appeal Court, Electoral Court, Land Claims Court, the Labour and Labour Appeal Courts, and Tax Courts to handle disputes between taxpayers and the South African Revenue Service. These courts exist parallel to the court hierarchy, and their decisions are subject to the same process of appeal and review as the normal courts. Analysts routinely praise the competence and reliability of judicial processes, and the courts’ independence has been repeatedly proven with high-profile rulings against controversial legislation, as well as against former presidents and corrupt individuals in the executive and legislative branches.
Laws and Regulations on Foreign Direct Investment
The February 2019 ratification of the Competition Amendment Bill introduced, among other revisions, section 18A that mandates the President create a committee – comprised of 28 Ministers and officials chosen by the President – to evaluate and intervene in a merger or acquisition by a foreign acquiring firm on the basis of protecting national security interests. According to the bill, any decisions taken by this committee are required to be published in the Gazette and must be presented, in appropriate detail, to the National Assembly. The new section states that the President must identify and publish in the Gazette – the South African equivalent of the U.S. Federal Register – a list of national security interests including the markets, industries, goods or services, sectors or regions in which a merger involving a foreign acquiring firm must be notified to the South African government. The law also outlines what factors the President should take into consideration when determining what constitutes a threat to national security interest, including the merger’s impact on the use or transfer of sensitive technology or know-how; the security of critical infrastructure, including systems, facilities, and networks; the supply of critical goods or services to citizens and/or to the government; and the potential to enable foreign surveillance or espionage or hinder intelligence or law enforcement operations. It also suggests the President consider transactions that enable or facilitate terrorism, terrorist organizations, or organized crime; and to consider a merger’s impact on the economic and social stability of South Africa. The law further recommends the committee take into consideration whether the foreign acquiring firm is a firm controlled by a foreign government.
Competition and Anti-Trust Laws
The Competition Commission is empowered to investigate, control and evaluate restrictive business practices, abuse of dominant positions, and mergers in order to achieve equity and efficiency. Their public website is www.compcom.co.za
The Competition Tribunal has jurisdiction throughout South Africa and adjudicates competition matters in accordance with the Competition Act. While the Commission is the investigation and enforcement agency, the Tribunal is the adjudicative body, very much like a court.
In addition to the points made in the previous section, the amendments, presented by the Ministry for Economic Development that revise the Competition Act of 1998 and entered effect in February 2019 extend the mandate of the competition authorities and the executive to tackle high levels of economic concentration, address the limited transformation in the economy, and curb the abuse of market power by dominant firms. The changes introduced through the Competition Amendment Act are meant to curb anti-competitive practices and break down monopolies that hinder “transformation” – the increased participation of black and HDSA in the South African economy. The amendments aim to deter the abuse of market dominance by large firms that use practices such as margin squeeze, exclusionary practices, price discrimination, and predatory pricing. By increasing the penalties for these prohibited business practices – for repeat offences the penalties could amount to between 10 percent to 25 percent of a firm’s annual turnover – and allowing the parent or holding company to be held liable for the actions of its subsidiaries that contravene competition law, the Competition Commission hopes to break down these anticompetitive practices and open up new opportunities for SMEs.
Expropriation and Compensation
Racially discriminatory property laws and land allocations during the colonial and apartheid periods resulted in highly distorted patterns of land ownership and property distribution in South Africa. Given the slow and mixed success of land reform to date, the National Assembly (Parliament) passed a motion in February 2018 to investigate a proposal to amend the constitution (specifically Section 25, the “property clause”) to allow for land expropriation without compensation (EWC). The constitutional Bill of Rights, where Section 25 resides, has never been amended. Some politicians, think-tanks, and academics argue that Section 25, as written, allows for EWC in certain cases, while others insist that in order to implement EWC more broadly, amending the constitution is required. Academics foresee a few test cases for EWC over the next year, primarily targeted at abandoned buildings in urban areas, informal settlements in peri-urban areas, and involving labor tenants in rural areas.
Parliament tasked an ad hoc Constitutional Review Committee – made up of parliamentarians from various political parties – to report back on whether to amend the constitution to allow EWC, and if so, how it should be done. In December 2018, the National Assembly adopted the committee’s report recommending a constitutional amendment, but Parliament ran out of time to draft the amendment before its final session before the May 8, 2019 elections. The next Parliament will need to compose a new ad hoc committee to draft the constitutional amendment bill.
South African law requires that Parliament engage in a rigorous public participation process. Parliament must publish a proposed bill to amend the Constitution in the Government Gazette at least 30 days prior to its introduction to allow for public comment. Any change to the constitution would need a two-thirds parliamentary majority (267 votes) to pass, as well as the support of six out of the nine provinces in the National Council of Provinces. Currently, no single political party has such a majority.
In September 2018, President Ramaphosa appointed an advisory panel on land reform, which supports the Inter-Ministerial Committee on Land Reform chaired by Deputy President David Mabuza. Comprised of ten members from academia, social entrepreneurship, and activist organizations, the panel will submit a formal report in 2019 on issues related to land restitution, redistribution, tenure security, and agricultural support. Analysts have praised the panel for representing the executive branch’s interest and dedication to engaging with diverse sectors to handle the sensitive, multi-faceted issues related to land reform.
Existing expropriation law, including The Expropriation Act of 1975 (Act) and the Expropriation Act Amendment of 1992, entitles the government to expropriate private property for reasons of public necessity or utility. The decision is an administrative one. Compensation should be the fair market value of the property as agreed between the buyer and seller, or determined by the court, as per Section 25 of the Constitution. In several restitution cases in which the government initiated proceedings to expropriate white-owned farms after courts ruled the land had been seized from blacks during apartheid, the owners rejected the court-approved purchase prices. In most of these cases, the government and owners reached agreement on compensation prior to any final expropriation actions. The government has twice exercised its expropriation power, taking possession of farms in Northern Cape and Limpopo provinces in 2007 after negotiations with owners collapsed. The government paid the owners the fair market value for the land in both cases. A new draft expropriation law, intended to replace the Expropriation Act of 1975, was passed and is awaiting Presidential signature. Some analysts have raised concerns about aspects of the new legislation, including new clauses that would allow the government to expropriate property without first obtaining a court order.
In 2018, the government operationalized the 2014 Property Valuation Act that creates the office of Valuer-General charged with the valuation of property that has been identified for land reform or acquisition or disposal by a department. Among other things, the Act gives the government the option to expropriate property based on a formulation in the Constitution termed “just and equitable compensation.” This considers the market value of the property and applies discounts based on the current use of the property, the history of the acquisition, and the extent of direct state investment and subsidy in the acquisition and capital improvements to the property. Critics fear that this could lead to the government expropriating property at a price lower than fair market value. The Act also allows the government to expropriate property under a broad range of policy goals, including economic transformation and correcting historical grievances.
The Mineral and Petroleum Resources Development Act 28 of 2002 (MPRDA), enacted in 2004, gave the state ownership of all of South Africa’s mineral and petroleum resources. It replaced private ownership with a system of licenses controlled by the government of South Africa, and issued by the Department of Mineral Resources. Under the MPRDA, investors who held pre-existing rights were granted the opportunity to apply for licenses, provided they met the licensing criteria, including the achievement of certain B-BBEE objectives. Amendments to the MPRDA passed by Parliament in 2014, but were not signed by the President. In August 2018, the Minister for the Department of Mineral Resources, Gwede Mantashe, called for the recall of the amendments so that oil and gas could be separated out into a new bill. The Minister also announced the B-BBEE provisions in the new Mining Charter would not apply during exploration, but would start once commodities were found and mining commenced. The Amendments are now with the Department of Mineral Resources to draft a new bill to be submitted to Parliament.
ICSID Convention and New York Convention
South Africa is a member of the New York Convention of 1958 on the recognition and enforcement of foreign arbitration awards, but is not a member of the World Bank’s International Center for the Settlement of Investment Disputes.
Investor-State Dispute Settlement
The 2015 Promotion of Investment Act removes the option for investor state dispute settlement through international courts typically afforded through bilateral investment treaties (BITs). Instead, investors disputing an action taken by the South African government must request the Department of Trade and Industry to facilitate the resolution by appointing a mediator. A foreign investor may also approach any competent court, independent tribunal, or statutory body within South Africa for the resolution of the dispute.
Dispute resolution can be a time-intensive process in South Africa. If the matter is urgent, and the presiding judge agrees, an interim decision can be taken within days while the appeal process can take months or years. If the matter is a dispute of law and is not urgent, it may proceed by application or motion to be solved within months. Where there is a dispute of fact, the matter is referred to trial, which can take several years. The Alternative Dispute Resolution involves negotiation, mediation or arbitration, and may resolve the matter within a couple of months.
International Commercial Arbitration and Foreign Courts
Arbitration in South Africa follows the Arbitration Act of 1965, which does not distinguish between domestic and international arbitration and is not based on UNCITRAL model law. South African courts retain discretion to hear a dispute over a contract entered into under U.S. law and under U.S. jurisdiction; however, the South African court will interpret the contract with the law of the country or jurisdiction provided for in the contract.
South Africa recognizes the International Chamber of Commerce, which supervises the resolution of transnational commercial disputes. South Africa applies its commercial and bankruptcy laws with consistency and has an independent, objective court system for enforcing property and contractual rights.
Alternative Dispute Resolution is increasingly popular in South Africa for many reasons, including the confidentiality which can be imposed on the evidence, case documents, and the judgment. South Africa’s new Companies Act also provides a mechanism for Alternative Dispute Resolution.
South Africa has a strong bankruptcy law, which grants many rights to debtors, including rejection of overly burdensome contracts, avoiding preferential transactions, and the ability to obtain credit during insolvency proceedings. South Africa ranks 66 out of 190 countries for resolving insolvency according to the 2019 World Bank Doing Business report, an increase from its 2018 rank of 55 despite receiving the same overall score, indicating that the increase is only due to other countries falling below South Africa in 2019.