Editorials 31.8.2017 05:40 am

Saved by SA’s constitution again

The Constitutional Court recently upheld a ruling of the High Court in Pretoria that homeowners are not liable to pay historical debt incurred by previous titleholders.

Once again, it has been shown that our constitution is a living, breathing document that protects the rights of ordinary people against irrational laws and regulations put in place by our government.

This week, the judges of the Constitutional Court upheld a ruling of the High Court in Pretoria that homeowners are not liable to pay historical debt incurred by previous titleholders.

The court also ruled that a section of the Local Government: Municipal Systems Act of 2000 was unconstitutional and must be removed from the statute books.

That section has always been one of the most bizarre pieces of legislation passed by parliament. It effectively allowed municipalities to claim money owed to them from people who had absolutely nothing to do with incurring the debt in the first place.

That special protection for third-tier government flies in the face not only of common sense, but of common law relating to debt.

It was always illogical that a third party should be held liable for debt that arose between the other two parties, especially if the one to which the debt was owed had failed to recover it.

It is nothing short of outrageous, too, that municipalities were shielded from the consequences of poor debtor management.

The way municipalities have conducted themselves in relation to debts owed to them since 2000 has not only been illegal (as now confirmed by the Constitutional Court), but has also been unethical and immoral.

Because of the huge extra financial burden the system had placed on house buyers, it has also, undoubtedly, contributed to much emotional and monetary hardship for people trying to acquire their own place to live. It is a pity that the lawmakers did not appreciate that, in any country, long-term stability improves with increased home ownership.

Thank goodness for our constitutional safety net.

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