Protecting Quasi-Possession of Electricity Supply with the Mandament van Spolie – Has the Supreme Court of Appeal Switched Off this Possibility? [A Discussion of Eskom Holdings Soc Ltd v Masinda 2019 5 SA 386 (SCA)]
Author: EJ Marais
Affiliations: BA LLB LLD, Senior Lecturer, University of Johannesburg
Source: Stellenbosch Law Review, Volume 32 Issue 2, 2021, p. 215 – 233
In Eskom Holdings SOC Ltd v Masinda 2019 5 SA 386 (SCA) (“Masinda”), the Supreme Court of Appeal had to decide whether the mandament van spolie is available for restoring quasi-possession of electricity supply. The respondent used the mentioned supply, which was sourced in contract, at her home. The court ruled that the spoliation remedy does not protect the quasi-possession of rights sourced in contract. For its quasi-possession to enjoy possessory protection, the right must be in the nature of a servitude, be registered or flow from legislation. This emphasis on the source of the right is problematic for two reasons. First, it contradicts certain common-law authorities which reveal that the quasi-possession of electricity supply sourced in contract does, in fact, enjoy protection under the spoliation remedy. This applies as long as the supply is a gebruiksreg (use right) and the spoliatus performs physical acts associated with the right on immovable property. Secondly, (over)emphasising the source of the right potentially undermines various fundamental rights. When the common law is open to several possible interpretations, as seems to be the case with quasi-possession, the supremacy of the Constitution and the single-system-of-law principle require that courts choose the interpretation that upholds (rather than impairs) constitutional rights. In the Masinda case, the court unfortunately opted for an understanding of quasi-possession which seems to undermine the Constitution. For these reasons, the decision is an unwelcome development.