January 31, 2023 In News

Democratic Alliance v Rulumeni [2023] ZASCA 1 (13 January 2023)

The Supreme Court of Appeal has upheld an appeal against the East London High Court, which held the Democratic Alliance liable for damages for infringing the dignity of Ms Rulumeni. 

In the High Court, Ms Rulumeni alleged that the Democratic Alliance (her employer at the time) had infringed on her dignity by conducting an interview inside of what was described as an “ablution block” or “toilet”. The High Court found that the choice of venue was wrongful and that the interview was conducted with the intention of infringing Ms Rulumeni’s dignity. It accordingly held the Democratic Alliance liable for general damages but dismissed the claim of economic loss.

On appeal in the Supreme Court of Appeal, the court reviewed whether the action itself was wrongful; the action in question being the hosting of an interview in a “toilet” or “ablution block”. The court explained that in order to establish an actionable impairment of dignity, two elements are required. Firstly, the action in question must be wrongful.  Wrongfulness is established by way of an objective test whereby the conduct complained of must be measured against the prevailing norms of society. Secondly, it must be established that the action was carried out with the subjective intention to injure the dignity of the respondent (Ms Rulumeni). 

On the issue of wrongfulness, the court noted that the description of the room as a “toilet” or “ablution block” is unhelpful. The court stated that the focus should be on the attributes of the room itself, as well as its layout. Photographs show that the room was a large, carpeted room containing lockers, a dressing table, a wall-mounted mirror and a couch.  The room led to the toilet but was not a toilet itself. The court held that, given the attributes of the room, it cannot be said that it offends the values of our society.

On the issue of whether a subjective intention to infringe the respondent’s dignity existed, the court held that the High Court erred when considering the events preceding the interview. Additionally, the appellants led uncontested evidence that it was not their intention to offend the respondent.

The appeal was therefore upheld.