CIVIL society organisations are preparing to take their legal stand-off against three bread companies to the Supreme Court of Appeal. The organisations, which include Cosatu and the Black Sash, want permission to lodge a class action lawsuit for millions of rand in damages over a price-fixing scandal. However, their plight was dealt a big blow yesterday when the Western Cape High Court turned down their application for leave to appeal against an earlier court decision, which also denied them permission to lodge the class action lawsuit.
Acting Judge Francois van Zyl dismissed both applications - that of the organisations with five bread consumers, as well as the separate appltation of three bread distributors. In his judgmeni, he said the organisations had failed to sufficiently define the class they were representing, making it "inipossible to define the parameters of the intended action so as to identify all the persons who will be bound by the result". Judge Van Zyl cismissed the distributors' application, saying that their dealings with the companies varied so much that a class action was not how their claims should be dealt with. "This will result in the respondents having to defend the claims with large numbers of distributors with whom they did not conduct business," he said.
"A class action under these circumstances cannot be said to be in the interests of justice." Nkosikhulule Nyembezi, advocacy programme manager for Black Sash, said they would take the matter to the Supreme Court of AppeaL "This matter has only been heard by one judge. If this were taken to a different court and a different judge, there might be a different decision." He said it would be easier to handle the case as a class action, rather than "clogging the legal system" with separate claims. If successful, they would put the money in a trust and use it to educate consumers and alleviate poverty. Cosatu regional organiser Mike Louw said that while the outcome was a setback, they were determined to drive the matter forward.
"Bread is a staple food to millions of people in this country. They suffered while companies were making huge profits." Tiger Brands, however, welcomed the decision. "Tiger Brands chose to oppose the applications because we believe that in law they were not wellfounded," said spokesman Niphra Ndlovu. "We respect the outcome and believe that the court was correct in its finding."