Bread as dignity

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Bread as dignity: The Constitution and the Consumer Protection Act 68 of 2008

Andrea Bauling*


Lecturer, Department of Jurisprudence, University of South Africa
Annelize Nagtegaal


Lecturer, Department of Private Law, University of Pretoria


Die Grondwet, verbruikersbeskerming en brood as menswaardigheid

Die belang van die onderlinge verband tussen mense- en verbruikersregte, (her)verdelende billikheid, verbruikersbeskerming en die kontraktereg moet vooropgestel word. Die reg op gelykheid en menswaardigheid het die mees direkte invloed op die kontraktereg. Die kontrak kan potensieel as ‘n instrument gebruik word waarmee armoede gedupliseer word. Die rol wat verbruikersbeskerming wetgewing speel in die proses om die verbruiker van die ekonomiese gevolge van onregverdige verbruikersoor-eenkomste te beskerm, moet geevalueer word in oorleg met die grondwetlik- voorgeskrewe plig om op ‘n volgehoue basis die regverdigheid en regmatigheid van die kontraktereg te verseker. Dit is uiters belangrik om die werklike bedingingstand van die partye te identifiseer, aangesien hierdie inligting noodsaaklik is om te bepaal of die ooreenkoms so aangegaan is om die voldoening van sosiale geregtigheid te bewerkstellig.

Die Wet op Verbruikersbeskerming1 stel regverdigde metodes daar

waarmee kontrak-vryheid ingeperk word om sodoende die ekonomies grensgeval-verbruiker te beskerm. Die ideaal van die etiese kontrak kan verdere leiding in hierdie verband verskaf. Die hoofdoel van die Wet, om die mees kwesbare lede van die samelewing te beskerm wanneer hul verbuikersooreenkomste aangaan, moet by elke moontlike geleentheid nagestreef word. Die impak van die uiters ongelyke bedingingstand van lede van die Suid-Afrikaanse samelewing kan nie langer afgemaak word indien ‘n billike en substantief-gelyke kontraktuele speelveld vereis word nie. Die vermoë om brood, een van die mees basiese verbruikersgoedere, te koop is een mate van waardigheid. Die rol van die reg in die Suid- Afrikaanse transformerende projek kan nie afgemaak word nie. Die strewe na ‘n kontraktuele Utopia kan potensieel, al is dit in ‘n mindere mate,

This article is based on research undertaken for my LLM dissertation at the University of Pretoria. A version thereof was also presented at the University of Pretoria’s International Consumer Law Conference on 26 September 2014. I would like to thank my supervisor, Mrs Nagtegaal, as well as the reviewers of this article, for their valuable comments and suggestions. Any errors or omissions remain my own.

1 ’n Nie-amptelike vertaling van die Consumer Protection Act 68 of 2008 is beskikbaar by BESKERMING%20(No%2068%20van%202008)%20Afr.pdf

bydra tot die proses om armoede uit te roei en gelykheid in die samelewing daar te stel. Alle geleenthede moet benut word in die soeke na maniere om armoede aan te spreek. Die hoop is dat die Wet op Verbruikers-berskerming die era van die etiese kontrak sal inlei.
1 Introduction

Since South African law comprises a single legal system,2 guided by the Constitution,3 constitutional values and the rights enshrined in the Bill of Rights must inform the law of contract. The rights to equality and human

dignity are those which have the most direct influence on contract law.4 If critically analysed from a transformative constitutional perspective, the law of contract has not yet embraced the spirit and purport of the

constitutional project.5 It has also been argued that the courts have in fact been achieving the exact opposite.

Davis states that the highest courts of South Africa have not yet embraced the distributive potential of the law of contract and, at present, it benefits and protects some legal subjects while subordinating others.6

He further welcomes the changes to the law of contract that the Consumer Protection Act 68 of 2008 (CPA or the Act) appears to implement, but warns that:

For the jurisprudence that emerges from the Consumer Protection Act to be coherent, the courts will no longer be able to eschew an interrogation of the ground rules upon which the contractual arrangement has been ultimately fashioned Inequality of bargaining power and the consequences thereof lie

at the heart of the considerations of which the court is required to take into account in terms of [the Act].7

This clearly illustrates the relationship between rights, distributive justice, the law of contract, and more specifically, consumer agreements.8 The desired and required societal change demanded by the fall of apartheid

can only be achieved by altering the current outlook on wealth

  1. Pharmaceutical Manufacturers Association of South Africa: In re Ex Parte President of the Republic of South Africa 2000 (2) SA 674 (CC) par 44.

  2. S 2 of the Constitution of the Republic of South Africa, 1996 (the Constitution).

  3. Barnard AJ A critical legal argument for contractual justice in the South African law of contract (LLD dissertation 2006 UP) 229.

  4. Davis ‘Developing the common law of contract in the light of poverty and illiteracy: The challenge of the Constitution’ 2011 Stell LR 845 847; Davis & Klare ‘Transformative constitutionalism and the common and customary law’ 2010 SAJHR 403 415. See also Bhana (‘The horizontal application of the Bill of Rights: A reconciliation of sections 8 and 39 of the Constitution’ 2013 SAJHR 351 375) and Moseneke (‘Transformative constitutionalism: Its implications for the law of contract 2009 Stell LR 3 13) who refer to the constitutionalisation” of the South African private law and common law, respectively. For a more detailed discussion see par 2 2 infra.

  5. Davis 2011 Stell LR 845 846. 7 Idem 861.

  1. As defined in s 1 sv consumer agreement.

distribution.9 Only once this shift is achieved, can an attempt be made to rectify the socio-economic injustices caused by such a systemically and fundamentally unjust system, since “political change would scarcely enjoy legitimacy unless it could provide real, visible benefits for poor and

marginalised members and sectors of society”.10 The manner in which

the common law of contract is currently interpreted and applied, does very little to better the position of the most impoverished in this country.

Traditional contract theory is built on the assumption that the parties to the contract negotiated the terms of the contract, reached consensus on each term and occupied equal bargaining positions during the

negotiations.11 This is unfortunately not observed in practice; traders and enterprises make use of standard form contracts that are slanted in their favour and not open to negotiation by the consumer.12

Furthermore, many consumer contracts are concluded out of necessity, as life sustaining products are also purchased by means of consumer contracts. In light of this the common law remedies to address unfair

contracts and contractual terms were considered insufficient.13

The CPA, as social justice legislation, has as aim the transformative constitutional aspiration to kindle and drive socio-economic change in the impoverished South African society. Law’s political element implies a process of implementing law to achieve political aims. Inducing drastic socio-economic transformation in the community as a whole is also one of the most important aims of the South African developmental state. Legislation could and should thus be employed in this regard.

The CPA highlights the position of the vulnerable party in a sales agreement, as well as how this vulnerability is directly related to the socio-economic position the vulnerable person fills in the community.14

In line with its purpose, the Act implicitly addresses the notion of the poor as vulnerable, and the protection it aims to provide the vulnerable in an attempt to address poverty, is of importance and should be evaluated and approached from within the constitutional framework. In order to achieve its transformative goal the Act provides additional objectives: creating and supporting a fair, accessible, efficient and

  1. Van der Walt ‘Legal History, Legal Culture and Transformation in a Constitutional Democracy’ 2006 Fundamina 1 2.

  2. Ibid.

  3. Woker ‘Why the need for consumer legislation? A look at some of the reasons behind the promulgation of the National Credit Act and the Consumer Protection Act’ 2010 Obiter 217 231.

  4. Sharrock ‘Judicial control of unfair contract terms: The implications of Consumer Protection Act’ 2010 SA Merc LJ 295 296.

  5. Ibid.

  6. S 3(1)(b) describes one chief aim of the Act as protecting vulnerable members of society: low-income persons and communities; individuals and communities how live in isolated or poorly populated areas; minors, seniors and similarly vulnerable individuals; or those who are hindered by poor literacy or language skills, or impaired vision, to read or understand advertisements, agreements or other visual representations.

sustainable consumer market;15 promoting fair business practices;16 and shielding consumers from suppliers’ unfair trade practices and conduct.17

The CPA does not apply to all commercial transactions and the common law is consequently the reigning law in a great number of

instances.18 Therefore, this article will evaluate the protection granted to the consumer in terms of the CPA, as well as the common law.19

However, the common law cannot be viewed as independent from the Constitution. The role of the Constitution in the South African developmental state and the role of contractual justice and paternalism will be scrutinised. Transformative constitutionalism and law itself will be assessed in terms of its potential to truly improve the socio-economic situation of the vulnerable and impoverished consumer. The ethical contract and the role of the CPA as a vehicle for contractual justice will be discussed. This article is written with the contract of purchase and sale and consumer agreements in terms of which goods are purchased, as its


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