On 29 August 2017, the Constitutional Court handed down judgment in an application for confirmation of an order by the High Court in Pretoria. The issue to be decided, was the meaning and constitutional validity of Section 118(3) of the Local Government: Municipal Systems Act 32 of 2000 (hereinafter referred to as the “Act”). This section provides that “an amount due for municipal services fees, surcharges on fees, property rates and other municipal taxes, levies and duties is a charge upon the property in connection with which the amount is owing and enjoys preference over any mortgage bond registered against the property”.
The matter came before the High Court after the City of Tshwane and Ekurhuleni municipalities suspended or refused to contract for the supply of municipal services to the applicants’ properties. This was on the basis that the applicants, who are new owners of municipal properties, owe the municipalities for municipal services rendered to these properties before transfer of the property. The municipalities alleged that they can invoke Section 118(3) of the Act to refuse new owners municipal services if historical debts are unpaid. The applicants complained that they faced darkness, having no electricity, and many other inhumane conditions because they bought property whose previous owners failed to meet their obligations to the municipality – and against whom the municipality failed to enforce its rights in fulfilment of its constitutional obligations.