A comparative assessment of the treatment of unincorporated business entities in financial distress in South Africa

Authors: Kudzai Mpofu & Hermanus Johannes Moolman

ISSN: 1996-2185
Affiliations: Senior Lecturer, School of Law, Walter Sisulu University; Senior Lecturer, Department of Mercantile Law, University of the Free State
Source: South African Mercantile Law Journal, Volume 35 Issue 2, 2023, p. 138 – 161


The main objective of this paper is to examine how business rescue schemes in South Africa facilitate the rescue of sole proprietorships and partnerships (unincorporated business entities) in financial distress. It is premised on the view that when a business is in financial distress, the lawmaker should provide some form of business rescue scheme accessible to all debtors regardless of their legal status, size, or commercial activities. The business rescue process has arguably received the most scholarly attention in recent times, yet, little or no attention is paid to the fate of financially distressed unincorporated entities in South Africa. The article sheds light on the role and significance of small and medium enterprises in promoting economic growth and the need to promulgate a debtor-friendly rescue regime. Through a comparative assessment, different business rescue schemes available to unincorporated business entities in South Africa, the United States of America and the United Kingdom are explored. It is observed that sole proprietorships and partnerships, which account for most unincorporated business entities in South Africa, are not eligible for business rescue or debt relief under the existing legislation. The rationale behind excluding unincorporated business entities from business rescue legislation seems to be that they lack legal personality. However, in other jurisdictions, the legislature has promulgated special business rescue procedures customised to match the unique personality of unincorporated business entities. Therefore, the South African legislature should consider promulgating a business rescue model for unincorporated business entities separate from the current Chapter 6 business rescue. Chapter 13 of the USA Bankruptcy Code provides an ideal rescue scheme for sole proprietors, while the UK insolvent partnership administration provides lessons on how to modify a business rescue scheme applicable to companies to accommodate partnerships in financial distress. The article contributes to the development of business rescue legislation that is targeted at relieving small businesses in financial distress.