Three High Court judges, sitting in Johannesburg, South Africa, as an Appeal Bench, have found an agreement between a now-estranged couple is invalid because the woman signed due to the ‘undue influence’ of her then partner. The agreement would have given the man half the sale price of the woman’s property if their relationship ended, which it did, just days after she signed, when he became violent and she obtained a protection order against him. The man then demanded his share of the property and business as detailed in the agreement. Although the trial court found in his favour, saying she had not signed the agreement under duress, the appeal judges closely analysed the details of their relationship and found clear signs of his ‘undue influence’ over her. They therefore held that she did not sign the agreement voluntarily and thus effectively set it aside.
For all its constitutional commitment to the equality of women, South Africa still experiences difficulties when it comes to matters of traditional leadership. That’s because these are often resolved at the local level in a way that assumes women are ineligible for traditional leadership roles. Take for example the question of who should fill the vacant Vhavenda throne. The Supreme Court of Appeal was asked to decide whether the traditional council acted in a way that promotes gender discrimination and, in answering that question, the court has now given a potentially far-reaching judgment.