Authority by representation – a rule lacking a theory: A reappraisal of Makate v Vodacom (Pty) Ltd 2016 (4) 121 (CC)

Author C Pretorius

ISSN: 1996-2088
Affiliations: BLC LLB (Pret) LLD (Unisa); Professor in the Department of Private Law, University of South Africa.
Source: Acta Juridica, 2021, p. 297 – 320


In Makate v Vodacom (Pty) Ltd 2016 (4) 121 SA (CC) the Constitutional Court had to consider the difficult question whether an agreement to negotiate compensation at a later date for an employee who had invented something for his employer was enforceable, where in the absence of later agreement the issue would be referred to the Chief Executive Officer of the employer for final determination. Although the court answered this in the affirmative, the more pressing issue for present purposes was whether the representative of the employer who had negotiated the agreement with the employee had the necessary actual or apparent authority to conclude the agreement. In dealing with the matter of authority, the apex court took an unconventional approach to ostensible or apparent authority: Whereas the basis of such authority has traditionally been seen as the doctrine of estoppel, the court held that the expressions apparent authority and ostensible authority have no bearing on estoppel as such, but rather refer to a form of actual authority arising from a representation of authority by the principal in respect of the agent. This article examines the courts approach in that regard and concludes that, although the decision attracts criticism from a conceptual viewpoint, there is merit in such an approach if it is adapted and defined purely in terms of the reliance theory.