South Africans – Don’t Lose Your Own Citizenship When You Apply for Another!

“… it cannot be said as the applicant suggests that the loss of citizenship takes place without notice and automatically as the citizen in that position has proper notice through the structure of the section of both the opportunity to seek consent to hold dual citizenship and the consequences of acquiring a second citizenship without obtaining such permission. It therefore is not a secret provision but one that every citizen who voluntarily seeks to acquire another citizenship should ordinarily acquaint themselves with” (extract from judgment below)

Note: Many South Africans who need to be aware of this risk will be overseas and/or may not have heard of the High Court decision we discuss below. If you know of any such person, please consider forwarding this to them as soon as possible.

A recent High Court judgment has confirmed that you will lose your South African citizenship if you apply for citizenship of any other country without prior Ministerial permission.

It is irrelevant whether you are South African by birth or not. It is also irrelevant why you want to acquire dual citizenship – perhaps you are living/working overseas, perhaps you want a second passport just to make travelling easier, perhaps you have financial reasons.

How and why you lose your South African citizenship

Dual citizenship itself is allowed, but our Citizenship Act provides that if “by some voluntary and formal act” you acquire citizenship or nationality of another country, you are deprived of your South African citizenship. And Home Affairs is interpreting that to mean that you have voluntarily given up your South African citizenship by your own “formal act” of applying for foreign citizenship.

You are exempt only if …

This loss of citizenship does not apply to –

  1. Minors (under 18 years of age) and
  2. Acquisition of another country’s citizenship by marriage.
How to retain your South African citizenship

The good news is that you can apply through Home Affairs for authority to retain your SA citizenship – but your application must be approved before you acquire your second citizenship. 

The bad news is that it takes time, so don’t leave it to the last minute! Even before the pandemic, processing time was given as “3 to 6 months” and media reports suggest that delays are now much longer, although perhaps the publicity surrounding the High Court case in question will assist in improving the situation.  If you are overseas, you should find the necessary forms and instructions on your local SA Embassy/Mission/Consulate website.

You’ve lost your citizenship – what now?

This is very much second prize, but you can still apply to get your citizenship back –

  • If you were a citizen by birth or descent you can apply for reinstatement only if you have returned to, or are living in, South Africa permanently (you still have permanent residence, you just aren’t a citizen).
  • If you were a citizen by naturalisation, you must re-apply for permanent residence or apply for exemption thereof, before you can be considered for resumption of citizenship.
  • If all else fails, consider taking the legal route. As we discuss below, the High Court has recently held that the relevant provisions of the Citizenship Act pass Constitutional muster, but there is talk of a possible appeal.
High Court: Choose how important your citizenship is to you, and know the law

There has always been speculation that this section of the Citizenship Act could be held to be unconstitutional. However, in rejecting a recent application to that effect by the Democratic Alliance, the High Court has confirmed that it passes constitutional muster and is not “irrational”.

The High Court’s reasoning was that “It is ultimately a matter of personal choice what weight each of us attaches to the idea of our citizenship”, and that this is not a case of automatic loss of citizenship without notice but rather it “is really about personal and individual choices people make about their future and often choices come with consequences.”

The section in question, held the Court, is “not a secret provision but one that every citizen who voluntarily seeks to acquire another citizenship should ordinarily acquaint themselves with … while it may be arguable that citizens cannot be expected to know every feature of the law, those citizens involved in migration and  relocation to other countries with the possibility of acquiring citizenship there must surely be expected to acquaint themselves with the law in that area of activity they are involved in.”

There is talk of an appeal but for now at least, if you have already lost your citizenship your options are limited to those set out above.

P.S. Never let your SA passport lapse! 

Although you can travel freely around the world on your second passport, you must enter and depart from South Africa on your valid SA passport.  Keep renewing it!

Disclaimer: The information provided herein should not be used or relied on as professional advice. No liability can be accepted for any errors or omissions nor for any loss or damage arising from reliance upon any information herein. Always contact your professional adviser for specific and detailed advice.

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Arrest and a Criminal Record for Not Wearing a Mask?

“7,000 people have already been arrested for not wearing masks and most of them now have criminal records” (Police Minister Bheki Cele in mid-January)

We all know that wearing a face mask is the right and the safe thing to do, but it is also a legal requirement – and it’s one that you really don’t want to breach.

Firstly, can you be arrested for not wearing a mask?

The short answer is yes, the amended Disaster Management Act Regulations providing that –

  • Everyone (except children under six) must always wear a face mask (covering nose as well as mouth!) when in a public place.
  • It is a criminal offence not to comply with a verbal instruction to wear a face mask by an “enforcement officer” (defined to include SAPS and SANDF members, “peace officers” such as magistrates, Justices of the Peace, correctional services officers, municipal law enforcement officers and other designated officials). There are also reports of arrests without such an instruction being given beforehand, and as the police appear to be using their interpretation of the Regulations to conduct these “arrests without warning”, rather be safe than sorry – assume that if you have no mask you risk immediate arrest and prosecution.
  • You are liable on conviction to “a fine or a period of imprisonment not exceeding six months, or to both such fine and imprisonment.”
  • You need not wear a mask while undertaking “vigorous exercise” (not defined in the Regulations but presumably including fast running, cycling and the like – err on the side of caution here) provided that you continually maintain a distance of one and a half meters from any other person.
You could end up with a criminal record, and that’s real trouble

You can of course elect to go to court to fight the charge, but often you will also be given the alternative of paying an “admission of guilt” fine. 

It will be a tempting offer at the time but be careful – paying a fine is one thing but if you end up with a criminal record (an entry in the SAPS Criminal Record Centre database) you will regret it. Imagine for example a scenario where you apply for a job, or a travel visa, or a firearms licence, or for credit (such as a home loan). And suddenly up pops your long-forgotten criminal record, a nasty surprise at the worst possible time.

Plans to change the law so that only some admission of guilt fines will result in a criminal record have so far come to nought. So as the law stands you will end up with a “deemed” conviction and sentence – and thus a record – if you are arrested and your fingerprints are taken. Which is exactly what the Minister says will happen to you.

And once you have a criminal record, it’s not at all easy to get rid of it.

Three ways you can try to remove your criminal record  
  1. Firstly, you can apply for “expungement” of the record to remove it from the CRC database, but that option is only available to you after 10 years and for certain “minor offences”. It will also take a long time to process – “20 – 28 weeks” per SAPS. Note that some specified minor convictions fall away automatically after 10 years – ask for specific advice.
  2. Secondly, you could ask a court to set aside your conviction and sentence – costly, not an immediate fix, and not guaranteed to succeed.
  3. Thirdly, you could hope that planned amendments to our criminal procedure laws will retrospectively come to your aid – speculative for now.

The bottom line – wear your mask, and don’t admit guilt without legal advice!

Disclaimer: The information provided herein should not be used or relied on as professional advice. No liability can be accepted for any errors or omissions nor for any loss or damage arising from reliance upon any information herein. Always contact your professional adviser for specific and detailed advice.

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Does Your Dog Bite? Your (Substantial) Risk Remains

“People are entitled to walk our streets without having to fear being attacked by dogs and, where such attacks occur, they should in most circumstances be able to look to the owner of the dog for recompense” (extract from judgment below)

Dog owners (in fact owners of any potentially dangerous domesticated animal) should take note of the Supreme Court of Appeal (SCA)’s recent refusal to extend the legal defences open to you if you are sued for injuries and losses caused by your animal.

Your risk is substantial – the dog owner in this case is being sued for R2.3m.
Three dogs savage a passer-by
  • An “itinerant gardener and refuse collector”, making his peaceful way down a suburban street and pulling the trolley in which he collects refuse, was attacked by three dogs for no reason, and without any warning.
  • The dogs savaged him to such an extent that neighbours who came to the scene thought he was dead. He survived, but his left arm was amputated as a result of his injuries. 
  • Sued for R2.341m in damages by the victim, the dog owner raised a variety of defences, but the important aspect for most of us is the SCA’s decision regarding his defence which boiled down to “the injuries weren’t my fault”.
Pauperian liability – liability without fault

Which brings us to the nub of your risk – you can be held liable on a “strict liability” or “no fault” basis. You can be sued even if you were in no way negligent.

That’s very different to most other types of liability for damages, where you are – with just a few exceptions – only at risk if you are proved to be at fault. As unfair as that may sound at first blush, there is solid reasoning behind it: “…the reality is that animals can cause harm to people and property in various ways. When they do so and the victim of their actions is innocent of fault for the harm they have caused, the interests of justice require that as between the owner and the injured party it is the owner who should be held liable for that harm.” 

That concept goes back millennia to pre-Roman laws, and our modern law continues to apply this no-fault principle in respect of domesticated animals as “pauperian liability” (“actio de pauperie” to lawyers).

This is a complicated area of law, involving much judicial interpretation of both old and modern laws, and professional advice specific to your case is essential. In a nutshell however you are liable “if the animal does damage from inward excitement or, as it is also called, from vice … its behaviour is not considered such as is usual with a well-behaved animal of the kind.”

SCA: The three defences open to you remain limited

The three limited defences that have always been available to you are –

  1. The victim “was in a place where they were not entitled to be” – for example  “a housebreaker bitten by a watch dog [or] where the animal was chained to restrain it and the injured party ventured within reach … However, in general, if the harm occurred in a public place, such as a public street, the owner would be liable.” 
  2. “The injured party or a third party provoked the attack by goading or provoking the animal.”
  3. Another person (perhaps a dog-sitter, dog walker or boarding kennel for example) had taken “custody or control” of the animal and failed through negligence to control it resulting in it injuring the victim. The claim then would be against the other person and not against you as owner. 

The dog owner here asked the Court to extend that third defence by taking away the “custody or control” requirement, so that negligence by another person not a custodian of the dog would still be a defence open to the owner. That would have given the owner a glimmer of hope with his speculative defence that that he had left the dogs behind a locked gate and “an unknown intruder must have attempted to gain access to the property via the gates and in doing so damaged the two padlocks … In turn this enabled the dogs to escape…”.

Bottom line (after much learned analysis of the law and constitutional considerations) – the Court declined to extend the third defence and your strict liability risk remains undiminished.

Control your dogs and check your insurance policies!

Disclaimer: The information provided herein should not be used or relied on as professional advice. No liability can be accepted for any errors or omissions nor for any loss or damage arising from reliance upon any information herein. Always contact your professional adviser for specific and detailed advice.

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Friends and Lovers: Before You Lend Out Your Car…

“Neither a borrower nor a lender be” (Shakespeare)

This is a case of a “love relationship” gone wrong but the principles of vehicle ownership apply to any situation in which you lend a motor vehicle to anyone else.

A widely-held misconception is that if you are the registered owner of a car, it is yours and you are the owner. Not so, as a recent High Court judgment aptly illustrates –

The registered owner unable to reclaim “her” car 
  • In what must at the time have seemed like a straightforward agreement between two people “in a love relationship”, a woman agreed to lend her lover a vehicle which she bought from a finance company under a loan agreement.
  • They had agreed verbally that he could use the vehicle for his personal use and would repay her for loan instalments, insurance, licencing, servicing, traffic fines and the like.
  • When the relationship soured, the woman asked the Court for an order returning the vehicle to her as owner. 
  • Although there was no dispute that she was indeed registered as owner of the vehicle, the Court dismissed her application on the basis that, whilst possession of a vehicle’s registration papers is prima facie (“at first view”) proof of ownership, it is never conclusive proof of ownership. Nor is any change of ownership required to be registered for transfer to take place. So in this case the registration papers did not prove ownership, the actual owner being the finance company.
  • This is different to the position with land, where registration of ownership in the Deeds Office proves ownership and is necessary for transfer of ownership. That no doubt is the origin of the myth that being registered as the owner of a car proves that you are the owner – an incorrect and dangerous assumption.
  • The woman was accordingly not the owner of the vehicle, rather the finance house was the owner in terms of the lease agreement which provided that it retained ownership until all amounts due under the agreement had been paid in full.
  • End result – the ex-lover keeps the car, for now at least.
Lessons for lending out cars…
  • Should you decide to lend out your car, make sure to do it under a written agreement – the parties in this case were lucky that they could agree on the terms of their verbal agreement as our law reports are replete with bitter and expensive litigation over what everyone said and who agreed to what verbally.
  • Include a term spelling out clearly your rights to recover possession of the vehicle. The woman in this case would have been in a far stronger position if the parties had agreed that, even if the man held up his end of the bargain to pay for all the loan instalments and other expenses, the woman still retained the right to reclaim the vehicle if their relationship ended (she still wouldn’t have sued as owner, just to enforce the agreement). 
  • For life partners and cohabiting couples this is yet another reminder that there is no such thing as a “common law marriage” in our law. There are no automatic marital or other rights attaching to your relationship and applicable when the relationship ends, so entering into a full cohabitation agreement is the only way to safeguard both your and your partner’s financial and personal rights.

Disclaimer: The information provided herein should not be used or relied on as professional advice. No liability can be accepted for any errors or omissions nor for any loss or damage arising from reliance upon any information herein. Always contact your professional adviser for specific and detailed advice.

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Lockdown “Admission of Guilt” Fines – The Criminal Record Risk

Breaking any of our lockdown laws can be an expensive business, risking heavy penalties. 

If you are accused of a contravention and offered the option of paying an “admission of guilt” fine to avoid a court appearance, beware! It may seem like the easy way out to pay up and put the whole thing behind you but it could land you with a criminal record. 

You really don’t want to have a criminal record!

Having a criminal record comes with serious and lifelong negative consequences. Even an old and long-forgotten minor offence can hang around in the background until it suddenly pops up at the worst possible times – such as when you apply for a travel visa or a new job. 

When are you most at risk? 

The general rule is that you will acquire a criminal record if you are arrested, if the police open a docket and take fingerprints, and if you are thereafter convicted of a crime. 

The problem with admission of guilt fines is that they may well leave you with a “deemed” conviction and sentence which will end up in the CRC (SAPS Criminal Record Centre) database. Although there was talk in the past of the CRC capturing convictions with just your name and I.D. number the main risk seems to still be in having your fingerprints taken.

It’s not easy to get rid of a criminal record

And once you have a criminal record, it’s not easy to get rid of it.  

  1. Firstly, you can apply for “expungement” of the record to remove it from the CRC database, but that option is only available to you after 10 years and for certain “minor offences”. It will also take a long time to process – “20 – 28 weeks” per SAPS. Note that some specified minor convictions fall away automatically after 10 years – ask for specific advice.
  2. Secondly, you could ask a court to set aside your conviction and sentence – costly, not quick and not guaranteed to succeed.
  3. Thirdly, you could hope that planned amendments to our criminal procedure laws will retrospectively come to your aid – speculative and not yet in the pipeline.

The bottom line – if you are offered the option of paying an admission of guilt fine, ask for advice before you accept!

Disclaimer: The information provided herein should not be used or relied on as professional advice. No liability can be accepted for any errors or omissions nor for any loss or damage arising from reliance upon any information herein. Always contact your professional adviser for specific and detailed advice.

© LawDotNews