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The Law Around Malicious Damage to Property in South Africa and Examples


- Featured article by LAWYERS-ONLINE.CO.ZA - June 2019

Malicious property damage is defined as a common law crime under the South African legal system, meaning the sources for it can be found in case law and historical influences on the law. Currently, the accepted definition for malicious damage to property is to “unlawfully and intentionally damage the property of another”.

Therefore this means that malicious damage to property occurs when a person has caused physical harm to the property of another person. For example, if someone were to scratch someone’s car with a key, harm someone’s pet, or throw a piece of furniture it would constitute malicious damage to property. In this case, the word damage refers to the fact that the harm caused must have caused the owner some sort of financial inconveniences such as the cost of repairs or replacement.

In order to pursue a claim of malicious damage to property under South African law, it is imperative to lay a charge with the police station as soon as possible as provided for in the Criminal Procedure Act 51 of 1977. The case will then be investigated and if there is sufficient proof, a prosecutor will take the issue to court where the matter will be heard and decided. Always ensure that you keep as much proof as possible including photographs, witnesses and the time of the incident. The more information you can provide, the easier it will be to investigate and prove.

Speaking of the courts, it should be noted that the courts uphold a stance of de minimis non curat lex (the law takes no account on trifling matters) when it comes to trivial cases. For example, if a person was to lay a charge of malicious damage to property because a neighbour spills water on your property, the courts would not hear that case.

Damage must also be done with clear intent, as accidents happen and someone may not intend to cause harm. Therefore, should you accidentally drop something belonging to another person, there is no intent and there is no claim for malicious damage to property, and the actions was, well, malicious. At best there may a case for negligence.

If you have any questions regarding malicious damage to property as it pertains to South African law, kindly send us a query and we will refer your request to a qualified criminal attorney who can provide advice.

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