Personal liability of non-executive directors in South Africa: A global comparative analysis
Author: Mutsa D Danha
Affiliations: Tutor and LLM candidate, Learning Space Tuition and Wits Law School
Source: Journal of Corporate and Commercial Law & Practice, Volume 8 Issue 2, 2021, p. 21 – 34
The South African Companies Act 71 of 2008 (SA Companies Act) contains extensive provisions detailing the circumstances under which directors may be held personally liable for their actions completed while carrying out their duties. These statutory provisions are a partial codification and modernisation of the existing commonlaw provisions that had previously regulated this area of company law. These provisions still apply to the extent that they comply with the Act’s statutory provisions. The common-law tradition in South African company law has its roots in the English common law, which has spawned many other legal traditions, from that applicable in Australia to the tradition that has emerged (and diverged) in the United States of America. This article examines whether, in applying the statutory provisions of the SA Companies Act, the manner in which personal liability may be ascribed to directors would amount to a standard more onerous than jurisdictions with similar legal traditions to South Africa and, as such, render the position of director in South Africa as (comparatively) undesirable. A further examination of whether a director is an executive or a non-executive director is relevant to establish whether liability will ensue and to confirm the position in South African law on this matter. Some of the distinctions between such directors are laid out in the seminal case of Kaimowitz v Delahunt. Overall, this article seeks to ascertain whether the trajectory of South African company law is aligned with the modern forms of the same law that have evolved in its ‘sibling jurisdictions’ (legally speaking). It further seeks to establish whether any variance thereof would result in unintended detriment to the aims of the concerned laws – that is, promoting good corporate governance, and thus attracting good corporate leaders to the Republic.