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09 Apr 2024
BY Aslam Moosajee AND Zameer Omar

Unjustified Enrichment: No general enrichment claim currently exists in South African law

In the case of PRASA  v Community Property Company (Pty) Ltd and Another, the Supreme Court of Appeal (“the SCA”) ruled that simply pleading the four general enrichment requirements without relying on a specific enrichment claim already recognised in our law is insufficient.


Community Property Company (Pty) Ltd (“CPC”) instituted a claim against PRASA Corporate Real Estate Solutions (“PRASA”) for payment of R3 413 539.53 for electricity charges, in terms of an alleged agreement between the two entities. In the alternative, CPC claimed this amount on the basis of unjustified enrichment.

The court found that no agreement existed between CPC and PRASA; but rather, that there was an agreement was between PRASA and another entity, Crowie Projects. Therefore, the contractual claim was unsuccessful.

Understanding enrichment liability

In the context of a transfer of an object or money, a litigant claiming unjustified enrichment needs to satisfy the four general enrichment requirements:

  • The defendant must be enriched;
  • The plaintiff must be impoverished;
  • The defendant’s enrichment must be at the expense of the plaintiff; and
  • The enrichment must be without legal cause.

Generally, a litigant would also base their claim on one of the four recognised enrichment claims:

  • The conditio indebiti (a transfer that fails to fulfil an obligation);
  • The conditio causa data causa non secuta (a transfer that fails to fulfil a legitimate lawful purpose);
  • The conditio ob turpem vel iniustam causam (a transfer that was made for an unlawful purpose); or
  • The conditio sine causa specialis (transfers that were made without sufficient legal cause).

If a litigant’s claim fails to fall under one of these four recognised enrichment claims, the litigant would need to satisfy a court that an enrichment action should be extended to accommodate their claim. In doing this, the plaintiff still needs to satisfy the four general enrichment requirements.

The SCAs findings

In quoting another SCA judgment, McCarthy Retail Ltd v Shortdistance Carriers CC (“McCarthy”), the SCA found that there cannot be sole reliance on the four general enrichment requirements. Although the SCA, in accordance with McCarthy, explained that there may come a time for a general enrichment claim solely based on the four general requirements to be developed, this would occur in a rare case.

Where a claim falls under a specific recognised enrichment action, a litigant cannot merely attempt to satisfy the four general enrichment requirements without also satisfying the requirements of a recognised enrichment action. This is so as South African law does not, at least for now, recognise a general enrichment claim based on these four requirements without a specific enrichment action being pleaded and satisfied.  


The SCA found that the McCarthy judgment is not authority for the proposition that a plaintiff can exclusively rely on the four general enrichment requirements to support a claim for unjustified enrichment. Plaintiffs are thus not excused from pleading specific enrichment actions, alternatively, an enrichment action should be extended to accommodate their claim.   

Although a rare case may arise for a general enrichment action to be developed based on the four general requirements, it appears that where a claim may fall under one of the recognised enrichment actions or an extension of a recognised existing enrichment action to accommodate a claim, such a claim will not be classified as rare.   


Aslam Moosajee  

Executive | Dispute Resolution


Zameer Omar

Candidate Legal Practitioner | Dispute Resolution