Article 11/2021

Labour Edge

On what basis did the supreme court of appeal recently, in Theron v Premier of the Western Cape Province and Others (2019) 30 SALLR 192 (SCA), adopt the approach that, when interpreting contracts, statutory provisions, etc, a unitary exercise should be undertaken considering the text, context and purpose to achieve a sensible meaning?


  1. The supreme court of appeal referred to the principles dealing with the interpretation of contracts. It is clear that interpretation is a unitary exercise. It starts with the text to be interpreted, and considers it within the contract as a whole, and in context.  As put most pithily by Unterhalter AJ, in Betterbridge (Pty) Ltd v Masilo and Others NNO 2015 (2) SA 396 (GNP), at paragraph [8] (referring to the decision of this court in Natal Joint Municipal Pension Fund v Endumeni Municipality 2012 (4) SA 593 (SCA)), ‘the interpretation of language, including statutory language, is a unitary endeavour requiring the consideration of text, context and purpose’.
  2. Most recently, the supreme court of appeal, in The City of Tshwane Metropolitan Municipality v Blair Atholl Homeowners Association 2019 (3) SA 398 (SCA), at paragraph [59], referred to the English approach set out by Lord Hodge in Wood v Capita Insurance Ltd [2017] UKSC 24, at paragraph 10:‘The court’s task is to ascertain the objective meaning of the language which the parties have chosen to express their agreement. It has long been accepted that this is not a literalist exercise focused solely on a parsing of the wording of the particular clause but that the court must consider the contract as a whole and, depending on the nature, formality and quality of drafting of the contract, give more or less weight to elements of the wider context in reaching its view as to that objective meaning. In Prenn v Simmonds [1971] 1 WLR 1381 (1383H-1385D) and in Reardon Smith Line Ltd v Yngvar Hansen-Tangen [1976] 1 WLR 989 (997), Lord Wilberforce affirmed the potential relevance to the task of interpreting the parties’ contract of the factual background known to the parties at or before the date of the contract, excluding evidence of the prior negotiations.’
  3. Navsa ADP continued, in City of Tshwane, (at paragraph [61]):‘It is fair to say that this court has navigated away from a narrow peering at words in an agreement and has repeatedly stated that words in a document must not be considered in isolation. It has repeatedly been emphatic that a restrictive consideration of words without regard to context has to be avoided. It is also correct that the distinction between context and background circumstances has been jettisoned. This court, in Natal Joint Municipal Pension Fund v Endumeni Municipality … stated that the purpose of the provision being interpreted is also encompassed in the enquiry. The words have to be interpreted sensibly and not have an un-business-like result. These factors have to be considered holistically, akin to the unitary approach.’

In Minister of Police v M and Others (2016) 27 SALLR 53 (LC); (2017) 38 ILJ 402 (LC), the labour court identified the content of hearsay evidence of a special type affording greater weight than simple hearsay.  What is the approach adopted by the labour court in such case as to the transcript of an internal enquiry admitted as hearsay evidence in terms of s3(1)(c) of the Law of Evidence Amendment Act?  Subsequent to such judgment, the labour court, in Department of Home Affairs v General Public Service Sector Bargaining Council and Others (2019) 30 SALLR 172 (LC); (2019) 40 ILJ 2544 (LC), had the opportunity to apply the approach adopted in the aforesaid judgment to the specific facts of this matter.  In this subsequent judgment, how did the labour court identify such transcript of an internal enquiry as not constituting hearsay of a special type (as required in Minister of Police v M (supra))?

According to the constitutional court, when a referral is made to the CCMA or a bargaining council concerning a dismissal, is it a requirement that the reason for the dismissal (i.e. misconduct, incapacity poor work performance, etc) is also identified in order for such CCMA or bargaining council to require the requisite jurisdiction?

What are the principles governing hearsay evidence as contained in the Law of Evidence Amendment Act 45 of 1998 and applied by the labour court in, inter alia, Swiss South Africa (Pty) Ltd v Louw NO [2006] 4 BLLR 373 (LC) and NUMSA v SA Metal & Engineering Industries Bargaining Council and Others (2014) 25 SALLR 4 (LC)?