Contempt of court

In Matjhabeng Local Municipality v Eskom Holdings SOC Ltd and Others (Case No. 924/2013, Free State High Court, Bloemfontein), the High Court was required to decide whether the municipal manager for a local municipality should be convicted of contempt of court.

Eskom supplied electricity to the Matjhabeng Local Municipality, which fell into arrears in payment. In March 2013, judgment was granted against the Municipality for an amount of approximately R145 million. The amount remained unpaid. By July 2014, the arrears amounted to approximately R335 million. Consequently, Eskom obtained a court orderagainst the Municipality, in terms of which the Municipality had to provide certain information with a view to the parties’ entering into discussions to resolve their differences. In the meanwhile, the Municipality was required to resume payment of the current electricity account, failing which the municipal manager was directed to report to the High Court on the reasons for any default.

The Municipality fell into further arrears. The municipal manager failed to report to the High Court, as directed. In September 2014, the High Court ordered the municipal manager to give reasons why he had not complied with the previous order and why he should not be held in contempt of court. An explanatory affidavit was submitted by the municipal manager when the matter was heard again.

The High Court regarded the evidence of the municipal manager as unhelpful. Furthermore, the High Court found that the acting municipal manager’s non-compliance with the earlier order was wilfulmala fide and indicative of a high-handed approach.

Accordingly, the High Court found the acting municipal manager guilty of contempt of court. He was sentenced to imprisonment for six months, suspended on a series of strict conditions imposed by the High Court.

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