Zoning interpretationLocal government - land use - prior consent


In Georgiou t/a Georgiou Spa v Nelson Mandela Metropolitan Municipality (CA26/2016) [2017] ZAECGHC 1, the High Court heard an appeal against an order that interdicted the appellant from using her property as a health spa.

Ms Georgiou was the owner of property in Port Elizabeth. She used the property as a guest house and a spa. In terms of the zoning scheme regulations, the primary use of the property was as a residential building and dwelling house. Secondary uses were permitted but required special consent from the City.

When Ms Georgiou applied for special consent, the City discovered that the property was already being used as a guest house and a spa. Consequently, the City granted special consent for the operation of the former, but not the latter, and insisted that Ms Georgiou stop the operation of the spa. When she refused to cooperate, the City obtained a court order.


On appeal, a full bench of the High Court observed that the zoning scheme regulations were part of a larger body of statutory laws that were aimed at achieving the orderly and rational development of land and land use. Whereas the regulations allowed secondary uses, the court held that City must be informed in advance of any intended secondary uses. It must be in a position to form a view as to whether or not to tolerate the secondary use in question.

Furthermore, the court emphasized the proper approach to the interpretation of documents, whether statutes, contracts or otherwise. It quoted from the judgment of Wallis JA in Natal Joint Municipal Pension Fund 2014:

‘The present state of the law can be expressed as follows: interpretation is the process of attributing meaning to the words used in a document, be it legislation, some other statutory instrument, or contract, having regard to the context provided by reading the particular provision or provisions in the light of the document as a whole and the circumstances attendant upon its coming into existence. Whatever the nature of the document, consideration must be given to the language used in the light of the ordinary rules of grammar and syntax; the context in which the provision appears; the apparent purpose to which it is directed and the material known to those responsible for its production. Where more than one meaning is possible each possibility must be weighed in the light of all these factors. The process is objective, not subjective. A sensible meaning is to be preferred to one that leads to insensible or business-like results or undermines the apparent purpose of the document…’

The appeal was dismissed with costs.

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