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Airconditioning Design and Development (Pty) Ltd v Minister of Public Works Gauteng Province (9833/04) [2005] ZAGPHC 12 (2 February 2005)


        
THE HIGH COURT OF SOUTH AFRICA
Date: 26 January 2005, 2 February 2005 DELIVERED: 2/2/05

In the matter between:
Case No.: 9833/2004
AIRCONDITIONING DESIGN & DEVELOPMENT
Plaintiff/Applicant
(PTY) L TO
and
MINISTER OF PUBLIC WORKS -
Defendant/Respondent
GAUTENG PROVINCE
Procedure - Application for the Substitution of Defendant, the "Minister of Public Works, Gauteng Province", with the Minister of Public Works - acceded to. Categorical approach according to which substitution of new defendant not permitted without the new defendant's permission not in accord with spirit of section 34 of the Constitution, which guarantees access to courts. Test being that of prejudice to the new defendant, even if new defendant is a different organ of state or legal persona.
On the facts of the present matter, held that the Minister of Public Works was properly informed by the summons that he or she was the true defendant although wrongly cited as the "Minister of Public Works, Gauteng Province".
The summons was served on the street address of the Minister of Public Works in Pretoria and the mere fact that he or she was described as the Minister of Public Works Gauteng Province could not have prejudiced the Minister. In any case, constitutionally no provincial "Minister" exists, since the provincial counterpart of the national Minister is called the Member of the Executive Council for Public Works, Gauteng Province.
Application for substitution allowed. Opposition to substitution was, however, reasonable in the circumstances; costs awarded to respondent.
Van Rooyen AJ
J1 ]This is an application for the substitution of the defendant in this
action, "The Minister of Public Works - Gauteng Province" by the

TRANSVAAL PROVINCIAL DIVISION
REPORTABLE


"Minister of the Department of Public Works of the Government of the Republic of South Africa" as the defendant in the summons and everywhere else where the defendant is cited as such in Particulars of Claim. This application was opposed by the defendant, who is in fact the Member of the Executive Council for Public Works, Gauteng Province.
Background
[2] The Plaintiff instituted an action against the Minister of Public Works - Gauteng Province on the 29th April 2004 for the payment of an amount of R915,208.98 with interest and costs. The Plaintiff's cause of action was founded on a contract
between the Plaintiff and The National Department of Public Works, represented by its Director -General.
[3] The Defendant excepted to the Plaintiff
's particulars of claim on the basis that the Plaintiff's alleged cause of action was a written contract constituted by the tender document attached to the Plaintiff's particulars of claim and the written acceptance of the tender attached to the Plaintiff's particulars of claim. The tender was issued by the Department of Public Works of the Government of the Republic of South Africa. The tender was accepted by the Department of Public Works of the Government
Page 2
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of the Republic of South Africa. The Plaintiff had, however, cited
the Minister of Public Works for the Gauteng Province as the
Defendant. There was, accordingly, no vinculum iuris between
the Plaintiff and the Defendant.
[4 ]The Plaintiff delivered a notice of amendment in which it
indicated an intention to amend its particulars of claim by
deleting the citation of the Defendant and substituting therefore
"The Minister of the Department of Public Works of the
Government of the Republic of South Africa".
[5] The Defendant objected to the Plaintiff's amendment on the
grounds that the Plaintiff sought, by the amendment, to introduce
a new party as a Defendant. The Plaintiff instituted proceedings
against a different organ of state namely, a department in the
Gauteng Provincial Government. The National Government and
its departments are organs of state separate from the eleven
provincial governments and their departments.
APPLICABLE LEGAL PRINCIPLES
[8].Mr Meyer, for the Applicant, referred me to the following dictum in
Jacobs v Du Plessis and Others 1950 4 SA 25 (0) at 27G:

" Die Hof besit egter gemeenregtelike magte om te beveel dat partye bygevoeg of vervang word - vgl Van der Linden Judicieel Practycq deel 1 op 276. Die mag


Page 3


word ook deur ons regspraak erken - vgl gewysdes soos Blake and Others v Commissioner of Mines 1903 TS 784; Gihwala v Gihwala 1946 CPD 486; Amalgamated Engineering Union v Minister of Labour 1949 3 SA 637(A)."
Stegmann J in Greef v Janet en 'n Ander 1986 1 SA 647(T) has,
however, convincingly shown that Van der Linden is no authority for
the proposition that a party may be substituted without his or her
consent. This approach has been followed by Van Reenen J ( with
Hlophe J (as he then was) agreeing) in Hip Hop Clothing
Manufacturing CC v Wagener NO and Another 1996 4 SA 222 (C)
at 230A and Le Roux CJ in Dumasi v Commissioner, Venda Police
1990 1 SA 1068
(VSC), where the learned Chief Justice observes as
follows at 1071 D-E :
"It also seems to me that a so-called application for an amendment introducing a new party to the proceedings, where it appears that the action against the existing party is a nullity, in order to obtain the benefit of the nunc pro tunc rule, is not a bona fide attempt at placing the true case before the Court, but simply a device to circumvent s 36 of the Police Act. The existing abortive action is simply used as a vehicle to institute a fresh action against the Minister concerned in contravention of the limitation as to time contained in the Act. (See also Greef v Janet en 'n Ander 1986 1 SA 647 (T)).
[7] The Greef approach was, however, rejected by Flemming DJP
in O'Sullivan v Heads Models Agency CC 1995 4 SA 253 (W)
at 255-6. The learned Deputy Judge President of the WLD stated
that the substitution of parties is a daily practice and is
necessitated by practical problems which are experienced by
plaintiffs who do not always know whom to sue. The learned
Judge also refers to Waikiki Shipping Co Ltd v Thomas Barlow
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-~


Page 5
and Sons (Natal) and Another 1978 1 SA 671 (A) where Jansen
JA says at 678G, with reference to the substituting a cessionary
for the cedent :
" This is a matter apparently within the discretion of the Court and the Court will refuse the substitution if there is any prejudice to the other side ... "
[8] Although I agree that Van der Linden is no authority for
allowing the substitution of a defendant, I am of the view that a
Court could, under proper circumstances, grant such a
substitution. A categorical denial of such a substitution in cases
where there is no prejudice, would not be in the interests of
justice and not be compatible with section 34 of the Constitution
Act 108 of 1996, which guarantees everyone the right to have
any dispute that can be resolved by the application of law
decided in a fair public hearing before a court or, where
appropriate, another independent and impartial tribunal or forum.
[9] I, accordingly, support the approach of Van Heerden J (as she
then was) in Embling and Another v Two Oceans Aquarium
2000 3 SA 691 (C) where the learned Judge says the following:

" The primary object of allowing an amendment is to obtain a proper ventilation of the dispute between the parties, to determine the real issues between them, so that justice may be done (see Cross v Ferreira 1950 3 SA 443 (C) at 447 and the other cases cited in Erasmus et al .... ). The power of the Court to allow even material amendments is therefore, it would seem, limited only by considerations of prejudice or injustice to the other side (see in this regard Trans-Drakensberg Bank Ltd (under Judicial Management) v Combined Engineering (Pty) Ltd and Another 1967 3 SA 632 (D) at 637A-641 and Devonia Shipping




Ltd v Luis (Yeoman Shipping Co Ltd Intervening) 1994 2 SA 363 (C) at 369F-I.

Despite this liberal attitude of the Court towards amendments to pleadings, it must not be forgotten that a litigant seeking to make an amendment does not do so as a matter of right, but is seeking an indulgence and must offer some explanation as to why the amendment is required."
[10] The Embling approach also finds support in Blaauwberg
Meat Wholesalers Anglo Dutch Meats (Exports) 2004 3 SA 160
where Heher JA says the following at para [18]:
"Second, an incorrectly named debtor falls to be treated somewhat differently for the purposes of s 15(1) [of the Prescription Act]. That that should be so is not surprising: the precise citation of the debtor is not, like the creditor's own name, a matter always within the knowledge of or available to the creditor. While the entitlement of the debtor to know it is the object of the process is clear, in its case the criterion fixed in s 15(1) is not the citation in the process but that there should be service on the true debtor (not necessarily the named defendant) of process in which the creditor claims payment of the debt. The section does not say ' ... claims payment of the debt from the debtor'. Presumably this is so because the true debtor will invariably recognize its own connection with a claim if details of the creditor and its claim are furnished to it, notwithstanding any error in its own citation. Proof of service on a person other than the one named in the process may thus be sufficient to interrupt prescription if it should afterwards appear that that person was the true debtor. This may explain the decision in Embling supra where the defendant was cited in the summons as the Aquarium Trust CC whereas the true debtors were the trustees of the Aquarium Trust. Service was effected at the place of business of the Trust and came to the knowledge of the trustees. In the light of what I have said such service was relevant to proof that s 15(1) had been satisfied and was found to be so by Van Heerden J (at 700D, 701D)." (emphasis added)
[11]The approach is, accordingly, that a substitution should be
allowed unless the application to amend is mala fide or unless the
amendment would cause such injustice or prejudice to the other

side as cannot be compensated by an order for costs and, where
appropriate, a postponement. A mere erroneous description of the
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defendant will be condoned. Even the citing of the wrong
defendant will also be condoned, where there is no prejudice.
SEPARATE ORGANS OF STATE
[12] Ms Hassim correctly argued that the Provincial Department
of Public Works and the National Department of Public works
are separate organs of state and are separate entities for purposes
of civil process. Section 217 of the Constitution, which deals
with contracts by organs of state, clearly separates the three
spheres of government where contracts are concluded. Section
215 also separates the three spheres for purposes of budget.
Section 226 provides for Provincial Revenue Funds for each
province as does section 217 provide for a National Revenue
Fund. That the authority to conclude contracts within their
different spheres is an independent function, is also illustrated by
section 218. Finally, section 239 of the Constitution provides that
"organ of state" means "any department of state or administration
in the national, provincial or local sphere of government". Once

again, a clear differentiation between the departments in the national, provincial and local sphere.l In Ex parte Chairperson
1 Also compare the definition of "organ of state" in section 1 of the Institution of Legal Proceedings against certain Organs of State Act, Act 40 of2002
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of the Constitutional Assembly: In re Certification of the
Constitution of the RSA 1996 1996 4 SA 744 (CC) the legitimate
autonomy of the provinces within certain spheres, is also
accentuated - see para [250] et seq.
[13] The President is the head of state and the national executive.
The cabinet consists of a Deputy President and Ministers
appointed by the President (see sections 83 and 91 of the
Constitution). The executive of a Province consists of a premier
and members of an executive council (see sections 132 - 136 of
the Constitution). These members are sometimes incorrectly
called "ministers", as is the case in the present summons and
particulars of claim.
THE CONTRACT
[14] The tender contract between the plaintiff and the National
Department of Public Works provides that should any dispute or
difference arise, the Director-General shall have the option of
dealing with the claim directly to determine such dispute or
difference by a written decision given to the contractor. "The said

decision shall be final and binding on the parties unless the
contractor within 21 days of the receipt thereof by written notice
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to the Director-General rejects the same." If this is not accepted
by the contractor, it must issue summons within six months.
SUBSTITUTING THE DEFENDANT
[15] According to the Particulars of Claim the Director-General
of the National Department had issued his decision, rejecting the
points as raised by the Plaintiff, on the 31st October 2003.
Summons against the "Minister" of the Gauteng Department was
issued on the 28th April 2004, just before the six months term
expired.
[16]The present application will only be meaningful if the
substitution of the national minister is back-dated to 28 April
2004. That is also the obvious intention of the present
application. Of course, the Institution of Legal Proceedings
against certain Organs of State Act, Act 40 of 2002 has provided
relief in section 3(4) to creditors who have for good cause sued
the organ of state after the expiry of the term, where the debt has
become expired, but not extinguished by reason of
prescription.2 The plaintiff may, accordingly, have issued

2 The Act would seem to have addressed the constitutional problems raised in Moise v Greater Germiston TLC : Minister of Justice Intervening [2001] ZACC 21; 2001 4 SA 491 (CC), where certain legislative time restrictions were found to have been unconstitutional.
Page 9


summons afresh against the (national) Minister and shown that it
had good cause for the late issue of summons. It was, however,
certainly entitled to opt for the relief sought in this application.
[17] The question which arises in the present matter is whether "the Minister of the Department of Public Works" was not merely described incorrectly. Had the citation only consisted of the words, quoted in the previous sentence, the correct defendant would have been sued. There is, in fact, no "Minister of the

Department of Public Works - Gauteng. There is only a Member of the Executive Council for Public Works, Gauteng. The address where the summons was served was the street address of the
national department: Central Government Office, comer of
Vermeulen and Bosman Streets, Pretoria. This address appears on
the letter in which the tender is awarded to the plaintiff on the 22nd November 2000. This is also the address mentioned in the
Summons and the Particulars of Claim. The summons was also
served on the State Attorney Pretoria in accordance with
Provincial Court Rule 4(9).
[18] The first solution to the problem would be to find that the defendant was simply incorrectly described and that an
Page 10
--i./.


amendment would cause no prejudice to the national department,
which was informed of the action within the six months. If it is,
however, accepted that a different organ of state has been cited,
the approach of Van Heerden J in Embling (supra) would, to my
mind, solve the problem. As in that case, the summons was
served at the correct address. The present case differs from
Embling in that the correct debtor filed the notice of opposition in
that matter, which did not take place in this case.
[19] If an absolute rule against the substitution of a defendant
exists in this Division - which would seem to be the case
according to Greef v Janet (supra) - then that common law rule
should be developed in accordance with section 39(2) of the
Constitution so as to provide for a broader opportunity to
substitute a defendant. The importance of the accessibility of the
Courts as guaranteed in section 34 of the Constitution is, with
respect, described well by Southwood AJA (although in a
different context) in Price Waterhouse Coopers Inc and Another
v National Potato Co-Operative Ltd 2004 6 SA 66 (SCA) at para

[43] :

"On a number of occasions the Constitutional Court has emphasised the importance of this right: it is of cardinal importance and requires active
Page 11
_.~


Page 12
protection and courts have a duty to protect bona fide litigants (Beinash and another v Ernst & Young and others 1999 2 SA 116 (CC) para 17); the 'untrammelled access to the courts is also a fundamental right of every individual in an open and democratic society based on human dignity, equality and freedom' (Moise v Greater Germiston Transitional Local Council: Minister of Justice and Constitutional Development Intervening (Women's Legal Centre as Amicus Curiae) [2001] ZACC 21; 2001 4 SA 491 (CC) para 23); it is the foundation for stability of an orderly society and it 'ensures the peaceful, regulated and institutionalised mechanisms to resolve disputes, without resorting to self help': it is 'a bulwark against vigilantism, and the chaos and anarchy which it causes' (Chief Lesapo v North-west Agricultural Bank and another 2000 1 SA 409 (CC) para 22); it is fundamental to a democratic society that cherishes the rule of law (First National Bank of South Africa Ltd v Land and Agricultural Bank of South Africa and others; Sheard v Land and Agricultural Bank of South Africa and another [2000] ZACC 9; 2000 3 SA 626 (CC) para 6).
[20]The approach of Van Heerden J in Embling (supra), which
would seem to be supported by Heher JA in Blaauwberg (supra
para [10]), places the accent on prejudice or the interests of
justice. Applying Heher JA's approach to the present facts, it is
clear that the National Minister was sued as the true contracting
party, although another organ of state was cited. There is, in any
case, no Minister in the Gauteng Province and the summons was
served at the address of the National Department of Public
Works. There would be no prejudice to the Minister if he or she
were to be substituted for the Gauteng "minister". The national
department has not been involved in any litigation up to now and,
accordingly, it has suffered no prejudice in the form of costs. As
the true contracting party it was, however, sued within the six

Page 13

months term and it knew that it was the true contracting party
involved when the summons was served on it.
[21] 1 should mention in passing that, in my view, the National
Minister should at least have been served with a copy of this
application. He or she would then have been in a position to
apply to join in the Application as a Second Respondent.
Fortunately the State Attorney strenuously opposed the
substitution and the case for the National Minister was, in effect,
put by Ms Hassim, who argued the matter comprehensively and
with expertise. I do not believe that, in the circumstances, there
was any prejudice for the Minister. In future, it would be prudent
to, at least, deliver a copy of such an application to the person or
legal persona, who or which is applied to be substituted. In fact,
such a person or entity should, to my mind, be joined as a second
respondent. 3
'.
[22] I accordingly believe that the application must be acceded
to. In so far as costs are concerned, I believe that the application
was sufficiently intricate to have been opposed. The erroneous
.. ~

3 It should be mentioned that in the present application a metamorphosis would seem to have taken place: the application was first brought against the Gauteng Minister; the supporting affidavit also mentions the Gauteng Minister as Respondent. The Defendant's Notice of Objection states the Minister of Public Works as the defendant. When the Notice of Set Down is fIled it, however, states the National Minister as the Respondent.


citation was not explained, except to say that it was bona fide.
Given the clear indication in the contract that the national
minister is the contracting party, it would probably have been
impossible to have explained away the apparent negligence in
drafting.
[23]The application is accordingly acceded to; the respondent's
costs to be paid by the applicant. It is ordered that the defendant,
who is described as "the Minister of Public Works, Gauteng
Province" be deleted wherever the words appear in the Plaintiff's
Summons and Particulars of Claim and be substituted by the
words: "The Minister of the Department of Public Works of the
Government of the Republic of South Africa".
         JCW van Rooyen   .
Acting Judge of the High Court
1 February 2004
For the Applicant: HG Meyer instructed by Messrs Routledge-
Modise Attorneys, Pretoria
For the Respondent: SK Hassim instructed by the State Attorney,

Pretoria
Page 14