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De Jure

On-line version ISSN 2225-7160
Print version ISSN 1466-3597

De Jure (Pretoria) vol.45 n.2 Pretoria  2012




The past, present and future of vicarious liability in South Africa


Die verlede, hede en toekoms van middelike aanspreeklikheid in Suid-Afrika



Monray Marsellus BothaI; Daleen MillardII

IBLC LLB LLM BCom (Hons) (UP) MCom (UJ); Senior lecturer in Mercantile Law, Faculty of Law, University of Johannesburg
IIBlur LLB LLM (UP) LLD (UJ); Professor in Private Law, Faculty of Law, University of Johannesburg




Die onlangse - en volgens sommige, onrusbarende - tendens in Suid-Afrika om werkgewers (veral die staat) aanspreeklik te hou vir die onregmatige, skuldige dade van hulle werknemers gee aanleiding tot probleme en enige ondersoek na die moontlike middellike aanspreeklikheid van die werkgewer moet noodwendig altyd begin met die vraag of die werknemer wel 'n delik gepleeg het. Waar daar nie 'n delik is nie, is daar nie sprake van direkte of middellike aanspreeklikheid nie. Dit is belangrik om vas te stel wat die verhouding tussen die delikspleger en sy werkgewer was waar dit vasstaan dat die werknemer wel 'n delik gepleeg het. Dit is dan juis by die vasstelling of die werknemer in die loop van sy diens gehandel het dat beleids-oorwegings na vore kom. Suid-Afrikaanse howe het oor die jare toetse geformuleer om vas te stel of 'n werknemer in die loop van sy diens gehandel het of nie. Die doel van hierdie artikel is om die probleem van middellike aanspreeklikheid onder die loep te neem. Eisers probeer altyd in die diepste sakke grawe - diè van werkgewers - en hierdie tendens sal waarskynlik voortgesit word. Hierdie artikel streef om 'n nuwe perspektief op middellike aanspreeklikheid te gee en begin deur 'n kort historiese oorsig van hierdie vorm van skuldlose aanspreeklikheid in Suid-Afrika. Die artikel bespreek ook 'n aantal spesifieke probleme, waarvan die dilemma aangaande werknemers wat op diens is of nie en die ingewikkelde vraag rondom diensbestek die eerste is. Die artikel ondersoek ook die Wet op Arbeidsverhoudinge soos wat dit op wangedrag van toepassing is en die aard van die verhouding tussen werkgewer en werknemer. Direkte aanspreek-likheid as 'n alternatiewe eisoorsaak teen werkgewers onder sekere omstandighede word spesifiek gemeld.



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1 Beauty and Duty (1840).
2 Written by Leibner et al and performed by Elkie Brooks, "Pearl's a singer" tells the tale of a performer who "sings songs for the lost and the lonely". We are also told that "her job is entertaining folks, singing songs and telling jokes, in a nightclub." Accessed from on 2012-03-13.
3 [2011] ZACC 37.
4 Neethling, Potgieter & Visser Law of Delict (2010) 365.
5 Neethling et al 366-368.
6 Neethling et al 368-371.
7 Potgieter "Preliminary Thoughts on Whether Vicarious Liability Should be Extended to the Parent-Child Relationship" 2011 Obiter 1 89 191.         [ Links ]
8 66 of 1995.
9 68 of 2008.
10 Neethling et al 365 (authors' emphasis).
11 Ibid; Calitz "Vicarious Liability of Employers: Reconsidering Risk as the Basis for Liability" 2005 TSAR 215 217; Grobler v Naspers Bpk 2004 4 SA 220 (C) 277E-F.
12 For a detailed discussion, see Potgieter 2011 Obiter 189 191-192. See also Neethling et al 365-366.
13 Neethling et al 365.
14 Potgieter 2011 Obiter 189.
15 Neethling et al 329.
16 Botha & Joubert "Does the Consumer Protection Act 68 of 2008 provide for Strict Liability? - A Comparative Analysis" 2011 THRHR 305 305-319.
17 Van der Walt & Midgley Principles of delict (2005) par 28.
18 In terms of s 61 Consumer Protection Act, a producer, importer, distributor or retailer of goods will be liable for defective products. These categories of persons are liable jointly and severally. They are also liable wholly or partly as a consequence of (a) supplying any unsafe goods; (b) a product failure, defect or hazard in any goods; or (c) inadequate instructions or warnings provided to the consumer pertaining to any hazard arising from or associated with the use of any goods, irrespective of whether the harm resulted from any negligence on the part of the producer, importer, distributor or retailer, as the case may be. At first glance it thus seems that the Consumer Protection Act imposes strict liability on all of these categories of persons but a closer look to the provision and the defences in s 61(4) makes it clear that a form of strict liability is only applicable to manufacturers and importers. It thus clear that distributors and retailers can escape liability by proving that "it is unreasonable to expect the distributor or retailer to have discovered the unsafe product characteristic, failure, defect or hazard, having regard to that person's role in marketing the goods to consumers".
19 Van der Walt "Die deliktuele aanspreeklikheid van die vervaardiger vir skade berokken deur middel van sy defekte produk" 1972 THRHR 254; in Wagener v Pharmacare Ltd; Cuttings v Pharmacare Ltd 2003 4 SA 285 (SCA) 297, 300 the court stated that at that moment no urgent grounds existed to apply strict product liability in South African law and referred the possible imposition of strict liability to the legislature: "[F]urther, as to the argument that strict liability had to be imposed for commercial reasons, that it was preferable that this should be done by legislation after due Parliamentary process and investigation so as to produce a comprehensive set of principles, rules and procedures. Single instances of litigation could not possibly provide for the depth and breadth of investigation, analysis and determination necessary to produce, for use across the manufacturing industry, a cohesive and effective structure by which to impose strict liability".
20 Wicke "Vicarious Liability: Not Simply a Matter of Legal Policy" 1998 Stell LR 21 22; Neethling et al 363.
21 Potgieter 2011 Obiter 203.
22 Borg-Jorgensen & Van der Linde "Corporate Criminal Liability in South Africa: Time for Change? (part1)" 2011 TSAR 452 453-454.
23 Ibid.
24 1945 AD 733.
25 741.
26 Mkhize v Martens 1914 AD 382 390.
27 In terms of s 213 Labour Relations Act 66 of 1995 (LRA), an employee is defined as: "(a) any person, excluding an independent contractor, who works for any person or for the State and who receives, or is entitled to receive, any remuneration; (b) any other person who in any manner assists in carrying on or conducting the business of the employer." The common law definition of an employee has been expanded in order to extend protection to as many persons as possible. The definitions of "employee" in the LRA as well as the Basic Conditions of Employment Act 75 of 1997 (BCEA); the Compensation for Occupational Injuries and Diseases Act 130 of 1993; the Unemployment Insurance Act 63 of 2001; and the Skills Development Act 97 of 1998 all expressly exclude an independent contractor from the definition of "employee". It is therefore clear that a contract of mandate which involves an independent contractor is specifically excluded from the doctrine of vicarious liability (See Langley Fox Building Partnership (Pty) Ltd v De Valance 1991 1 SA 1 (A) 8; Smit v Workmen's Compensation Commissioner 1979 1 SA 51 (A) where the court listed factors that are indicative of an employment relationship as well as Midway Two Engineering & Construction Services v Transnet Bpk 1998 3 SA 17 (SCA) 23). Niselow v Liberty Life Association of Africa Ltd (1998 ILJ 752 (SCA)) dealt with the definition of "employee" in terms of the Labour Relations Act 28 of 1956. The Court in the Niselow case held (753I) that an employee at common law undertakes to render a personal service to an employer. The Court further held that regardless of the second part of the definition ("... any other person whomsoever who in any manner assists in the carrying on or conducting of the business of an employer") it also did not bring the individual in that case within the scope of the definition. The Court based this on distinguishing a contract of work and a contract of service. Consequently, the appellant in that case, who was an agent contracted to canvass insurance business for the respondent, was carrying on and conducting his own business rather than assisting in the carrying on or conducting of the business of the respondent. In the labour appeal court the court noted, however, that the supreme court of appeal "did not have the benefit of argument on the second part of the definition of 'employee'". (See also Smit & Botha's discussion on whether members of parliament ere employees and employers for purposes of the Protected Disclosures Act 26 of 2000 ("Is the Protected Disclosures Act 26 of 2000 Applicable to Members of Parliament? 2011 TSAR 815 815-829)). In 2002, the LRA and BCEA were amended to include the rebuttable presumption of employment in order to assist persons who claim to be employees rather than independent contractors. These factors are: (i) the manner in which the person works is subject to the control or direction of another person; (ii) the person's hours of work are subject to the control or direction of another person; (iii) in the case of a person who works for an organisation, the person forms part of that organisation; (iv) the person has worked for that person for an average of at least 40 hours per month over the last three months; (iv) the person is economically dependent on the other person for whom he or she works or renders services; (v) the person is provided with tools of trade or work equipment by the other person; or (vi) the person only works for or renders service to one person.
28 Wicke 1998 Stell LR 21 30.
29 394.
30 1981 2 SA 437(C) 444-445.
31 See also Ngubetole v Administrator, Cape 1975 3 SA 1 (A); Viljoen v Smith 1997 ILJ 61 (A); Greater Johannesburg Transitional Metropolitan Council v ABSA Bank Ltd t/a Volkskas Bank 1997 2 SA 591 (W); ABSA Bank Ltd v Bond Equipment (Pretoria) (Pty) Ltd 2001 1 SA 372 (SCA); Ess May Electronics Pty Ltd v First National Bank of Southern Africa Ltd 2001 (SA) 1214 (SCA).
32 Wicke 1998 Stell LR 21 30; Calitz 2005 TSAR 215 218.
33 Wicke 1998 Stell LR 21 31. In Feldman (Pty) Ltd v Mall (supra) the court also dealt with deviation cases and said that it is a question of degree with regard to space and time when determining if the act of an employee falls within scope of employment or not.
34 Calitz 2005 TSAR 215 218.
35 2000 ILJ 2585 2588D-F.
36 See also Viljoen v Smith (supra) and African Guarantee and Indemnity Co Ltd v Minister of Justice 1959 2 SA 437 (A) with regard to this matter.
37 (2003) 24 ILJ 2341 (LC).
38 This case was taken on appeal as Media 24 Ltd v Crobler 2005 6 SA (SCA).
39 Etsebeth "The Growing Expansion of Vicarious Liability in the Information Age (part 2)" 2006 TSAR 752 points out that it is "evident that companies can be held vicariously liable in the case of the inappropriate use/abuse of corporate internet and email facilities, in the form of harassment, discrimination, defamation (resulting from ill-conceived wording in an e-mail), copyright infringement (where the employee carelessly downloads and disseminates copyright material and software), criminal liability (if child pornography is downloaded) and even liability under the law of contract (where an employee inadvertently forms a contract through an email)".
40 See for detailed discussion Smit & Van der Nest "When Sisters are doing it for themselves: Sexual Harassment Claims in the Workplace" 2004 TSAR 520 520-543; Le Roux "Sexual Harassment in the Workplace: Reflecting on Grobler v Naspers" 2004 ILJ 1897 1897-1900; Whitcher "Two Roads to an Employer's Vicarious Liability for Sexual Harassment: S Grobler v Naspers Bpk en'n Ander and Ntsabo v Real Security CC 2004 ILJ 1907 1907-1924.
41 55 of 1998.
42 Neethling et al 368.
43 1986 1 SA 117 (A) 134.
44 Neethling et al 368-369.
45 [2005] ZACC 8; 2005 6 SA 419 (CC); 2005 9 BCLR 835 (CC).
46 See 3 1 4 1 below.
47 K v Minister of Safety & Security 2005 26 ILJ 681 (SCA) par 4.
48 Le Roux "Vicarious Liability: Revisiting an Old Acquaintance" 2003 ILJ 1 879.
49 2003 24 ILJ 1084 (SCA).
50 See Costa da Oura Restaurant (Pty) Ltd t/a Umdloti Bush Tavern v Reddy 2003 24 ILJ 1337 (SCA) where an employee (a barman) assaulted a patron because he was upset about the quality of service and made comments about it. The barman later followed the patron outside and assaulted him. The Court held that the employee's conduct was a personal act of aggression that was neither in furtherance of the employer's interest nor under his authority.
51 See Minister of Finance v Gore 2007 1 SA 111 (SCA) where the court held that the Minister of Finance is vicariously liable for the employees' deliberate dishonest actions (fraud) in the tender process. The court held the Minister is liable "if objectively seen, there is a sufficiently close link between the self-directed conduct and the employer's business" (par 28); see also Neethling & Potgieter "Middellike Aanspreeklikheid vir 'n Opsetlike Delik" 2007 TSAR 616 for discussion of the Gore-case.
52 Smit & Van der Nest 2004 TSAR 520 536.
53 Ibid.
54 Par 8.
55 Ibid.
56 Par 9.
57 Ibid.
58 Par 10.
59 Ibid.
60 Par 11.
61 Ibid.
62 Ibid.
63 Par 14.
64 Ibid.
65 Par 15.
66 Par 16.
67 F v Minister of Safety and Security 2010 1 SA 606 (WCC).
68 Par 18.
69 Par 19c.
70 Neethling "Vicarious Liability of the State for Rape by a Police Official" 2011 TSAR 186.
71 Scott "Middellike Aanspreeklikheid van die Staat vir Misdadige Polisie-optrede: Die Heilsame Ontwikkeling Duur Voort: F v Minister of Safety and Security 2010 1 SA 606 (WKK)" 2011 TSAR 135 135-147.
72 2007 2 SA 106 (CC).
73 Neethling 2011 TSAR 186 189.
74 See also Neethling "Liability of the State for Rape by a Policeman: The Saga Takes a New Direction: Minister of Safety and Security v F 2011 3 SA 487 (SCA)" 2011 Obiter 428 430.
75 Neethling 2011 TSAR 186 190.
76 Ibid.
77 Ibid.
78 Van Niekerk, Christianson, McGregor, Smit & Van Eck Law@work (2012) 269.
79 Ibid.
80 Neethling 2011 TSAR 189. Scott's (2011 TSAR 145) sentiments are similar to the extent where he concludes as follows: "Daar word aan die hand gedoen dat hierdie uitspraak onafwendbaar was in die lig van die presedent wat in die baanbrekende beslissing van regter O'Regan in die Ksaak neergelê is. Die enigste werklike verskil tussen die onderhawige feitestel en die feite in daardie saak, is dat die polisiebeampte in hierdie geval, anders as in dié van K, nie voltyds aan diens was nie. Daar kan volle instemming betuig word met die feit dat hierdie verskil nie voldoende rede was om die onderhawige geval van die K-saak te onderskei en slegs om daardie rede 'n teenoorgestelde beslissing te vel nie. Die motivering wat regter Bozalek verskaf vir sy hantering van die effek van die feit dat die tweede verweerder ten tyde van delikspleging op blote bystandsdiens was, is myns insiens ten volle geregverdig en lofwaardig. Die gevolg van al die statutêre bepalings en dicta uit die regspraak wat die regter aanhaal ter stawing van sy interpretasie van die gevolg van bystandsdiens word trouens treffend geparafraseer in 'n enkele sinnetjie uit Rabie v Minister of Police 1984 1 SA 786 (W), waarin die standaardtoets finaal sy beslag gekry het: 'When a member of the South African Police Force is off duty it cannot be suggested that his statutory duties as a member of the Force or that his authority are suspended' (791F)."
81 625B-626C.
82 2011 TSAR 135 143-144 (authors' emphasis).
83 Neethling 2011 TSAR 186 191.
84 2007 28 ILJ 2405 (CC) par 78. See also Lipka v Voltex PE 2010 31 ILJ 2199 (CCMA) in this regard.
85 The Code of Good Practice: Dismissal sets out the requirements of a fair pre-dismissal procedure in cases of alleged misconduct. This procedure is laid out in item 4(1) as follows: "Normally, the employer should conduct an investigation to determine whether there are grounds for dismissal. This does not need to be a formal inquiry. The employer should notify the employee of the allegations using a form and language that the employee can reasonably understand. The employee should be allowed the opportunity to state a case in response to the allegations. The employee should be entitled to a reasonable time to prepare a response and to the assistance of a trade union representative or fellow employee. After the inquiry, the employer should communicate the decision taken, and preferably furnish the employee with a written notification of that decision."
86 S 34(1) & (2) BCEA.
87 Scott 2011 TSAR 135 147.
88 Ibid.
89 Par 20.
90 Ibid.
91 Ibid.
92 Par 22.
93 Par 23.
94 Par 24.
95 Ibid.
96 See par 3.4 below. The minority judgment of Maya JA, however, is not without criticism. Scott "Die Hoogste Hof van Appèl Smoor Heilsame Regsontwikkeling: Minister of Safety and Security v F 2011 3 SA 487 (HHA)" 2011 TSAR 773 786 argues that although the minority judgment was less substantial than the majority judgment of Nugent AJ, the minority judgment is preferred nevertheless. The reason Scott prefers it is because it followed the constitutional imperatives (as mentioned in K) to protect vulnerable groups such as women and children. The majority judgment is also criticised by this author and he concludes as follows: "[i]ndien die uitgebreide en meer beredeneerde meerderheidsuitspraak van appèlregter Nugent nugter betrag word, tref dit die leser dat dit net sowel in die pre-konstitusionele era gelewer kon wees: daar is nie eens 'n enkele beroep op die grondwetlike beginsels wat in die Carmichele- en K-sake gefigureer het nie. Bloot wat hierdie aspek betref, is die hoogste hof van appèl se meerderheidsuitspraak 'n retrogressiewe stap in 'n andersins lofwaardige en gesonde regsontwikkeling wat die grondwetlike regte van verkragte en aangerande vroue en kinders betref".
97 Par 40.
98 Par 41.
99 Ibid.
100 Par 42. The court quotes Watermeyer CJ in Feldman. See discussion in 2 above.
101 Par 45.
102 1986 1 SA 117 (A).
103 Par 46.
104 Rabie 134C-E.
105 The court quotes the following passage from K: "The approach makes it clear that there are two questions to be asked. The first is whether the wrongful acts were done solely for the purposes of the employee. This question requires a subjective consideration of the employee's state of mind and is a purely factual question. Even if it is answered in the affirmative, however, the employer may nevertheless be liable vicariously if the second question, an objective one, is answered affirmatively. That question is whether, even though the acts done have been done solely for the purpose of the employee, there is nevertheless a sufficiently close link between the employee's acts for his own interests and the purposes and the business of the employer. This question does not raise purely factual questions, but mixed questions of fact and law. The questions of law it raises relate to 'what is sufficiently close' to give rise to vicarious liability. It is in answering this question that a court should consider the need to give effect to the spirit, purport and objects of the Bill of Rights." (Par 32).
106 Par 51.
107 Par 52. The court quotes O'Regan in K par 32.
108 Par 52.
109 Par 53.
110 Par 54.
111 Ibid.
112 Ibid.
113 Ibid.
114 Par 62.
115 Ibid.
116 Par 63.
117 Ibid. Kpar 57.
118 Par 64.
119 Par 66.
120 Par 68.
121 Par 69.
122 Parr 71-73.
123 Par 78.
124 Parr 80-81.
125 Also refer to Neethling & Potgieter "Deliktuele staatsaanspreeklikheid weens polisieverkragting" LitNet Akademies 9(1), March 2012 (accessed at on 27-07-2012).
126 Par 88.
127 Par 89.
128 Par 90.
129 Ibid.
130 Par 93.
131 Ibid.
132 Par 94.
133 Par 96. Froneman J refers to par 32, 45 and 49 of K.
134 Par 98.
135 Baxter Administrative law (1984) 63-632.
136 Par 100.
137 Par 101.
138 Par 104.
139 Par 108.
140 Although Neethling 2011 Obiter 428 437-438 also in the latter part of 2011 commented on the Supreme Court of Appeal's judgment in F his concerns regarding direct liability are noteworthy. He feels that the state can only be vicariously, and not directly, liable for delicts of employees because "[o]n the face of it, there does not seem to be any room for direct liability of the state where the sate itself committed a wrong or delict acting through employees. Seen in this light, Nugent JA's submission that the SCA decisions in Van Duivenboden, Van Eeden, Hamilton and Carmichele (in 2004), none of which was even based on intentional police wrongdoing, should have been founded upon direct liability of the state acting through the instrument of its employees, cannot be accepted. In this regard Nugent JA made no attempt to explain how the conduct of employees acting as functionaries of the state for the purposes of its direct liability, differs from their conduct acting in the course and scope of their employment for the purposes of the state's vicarious liability. This can only lead to confusion and create legal uncertainty in an area where clarity existed beforehand. Clearly, in all these cases it was the employees who, while acting in the execution of their legislative duties, negligently breached their duty to prevent crime and protect the public. For their wrongs or delicts the state was correctly held vicariously liable."
141 Par 109.
142 Ibid.
143 Ibid.
144 1978 2 SA 551 (A).
145 Par 110.
146 Par 121.
147 2002 6 SA 431 (SCA).
148 2001 4 SA 938 (CC). See also Neethling & Potgieter (n 124). The authors do not seem to prefer vicarious liability to direct liability or vice versa. Instead, they summarise that one may consider replacing the constitutional court's "constitutional" approach to vicarious liability with direct liability as the requirement of a sufficiently close connection in vicarious liability cases which deal with rape is over extended.
149 Par 125.
150 Par 136.
151 Par 137.
152 Par 146.
153 Par 148.
154 Par 155.
155 Par 168.
156 Par 169.
157 Parr 173-174.
158 Par 175.
159 Par 177.
160 2011 Obiter 428 438.
161 Potgieter 2011 Obiter 189 191.
162 See 3.1.2 above.
163 Par 109.
164 Neethling 2011 Obiter 428 437-438.
165 Neethling et al 4.
166 Neethling et al 30, 57, 76-77.
167 Neethling et al 57.
168 2001 (4) SA 938 (CC).
169 Parr 27-29 and 72-74. See also Neethling, Potgieter & Scott Case book on the Law of delict (2006) 26.
170 Neethling et al 123.
171 Neethling et al 126.
172 Neethling et al 131.
173 Kruger v Coetzee 1966 2 SA 428 (A) 430; Neethling et al 133.
174 Par 109. See also Okpaluba & Osode Government Liability: South Africa and the Commonwealth (2010) 16.
175 Par 109.
176 Ibid.
177 Par 121.
178 Par 148.
179 Wiechers Administrative Law (1985) page number as quoted by Olivier "Delictual liability of the South African Revenue Service: The wrongfulness element" 2009 TSAR 740 744.
180 Batho Pele means "people first" and these principles are access, which means to offer integrated service delivery, openness and transparency, which means to create a culture of collaboration, consultation, which means to listen to the customer's problems, redress, which means to apologise when necessary. In addition there are the principles of courtesy, service standards, information and value for money. See (accessed on 2012-03-21).
181 Carmichele par 1
182 Scott 2011 TSAR 135 147. The writer states that all these factors would explain why we are dealing with "near absolute liability" in cases concerning the police.