CASE NO.: CA 150/2005
IN THE HIGH COURT
the matter between:
SCHMIDT t/a PRESTIGE
Heard on: 2006 June 2
on: 2006 June 28
PARKER, A J.:
 In June 2000 the appellant (plaintiff in the
magistrate’s court) and the respondent (defendant in the
magistrate’s court) entered into a written contract (the contract).
In terms of the contract, the appellant agreed to carry out the
following additions and changes to the respondent’s property (the
house), namely, a garage, an enlarged main bedroom and bathroom, an
enlarged living room, dining room, precast
wall, with a metal gate, surrounding the house, and
painting of the inside of the house. The contract price was
 The work was carried out between October 2000 and
March 2001. It is not in dispute that the final instalment of
N$16,000.00 remains unpaid. The appellant, therefore, issued summons
in the court below against the respondent for payment of the
N$16,000.00 (Claim A) and an additional N$21,650.00 (Claim B); the
claim for N$21,650.00 was based on an alleged oral agreement between
the parties whereby additional work was done by the appellant, to
wit, the tiling of the bedroom, fitting of cupboards in the kitchen
and bedroom and painting. The respondent counter-claimed for damages
in the amount of N$50,647.00 being the estimated amount it would cost
the respondent to (1) have the appellant’s non-completed work
completed, and (2) to obtain a report on alleged structural defects
and remedy them (the counter-claim).
 The learned magistrate gave judgment in favour of
the respondent, and made the following order, which is reproduced in
has failed to prove on balance of probabilities that defendant had
intention not to pay the amount of N$ 16 000.
(17.2) With regard with to claim B Plaintiff fails to
prove that there exist oral agreement between the parties of N$ 21
650.00 neither for the letter date 10th April 2001 that he
wrote to the Defendant. Could he demand such amount due for payment
for the Defendant side. This claim B has been dismissed with cost.
has in totally fail to perform completely and deliver quality work as
per agreement as such defective and poor workmanship call for proper
assessment. As result plaintiff is order to remedy such defects by
appointing structural engineer to do proper assessment in order to
rectify those defects and deliver a quality workmanlike performance.
The recommendation made by Mr. Godo and Mr. Le Roux must be
considered in such operation.
is ordered to the Defendant an amount of N$50,647.50 additional works
that emanate from poor workmanship of the Plaintiff’s conduct. The
amount of N$16000.00 that is still payable will be suspended pending
the completion of unfinished work and rectify defects by Plaintiff.
From this decision the respondent now appeals.
 In his plea, the respondent set up the following
defences to Claim A and Claim B. To Claim A, his defence was that the
appellant was not entitled to the claim because the appellant’s
work was defective in that he failed to perform the work in a
workmanlike manner resulting in cracks appearing in the structure of
the house and the appellant did not complete the contract work,
including painting. His defence to Claim B was in the form of a
denial of the existence of an oral agreement. He pleaded that the
tiling, fitting of cupboards in the kitchen and bedroom and painting
of the inside of the house were a part of the written contract and
that these works were not additional to what the written contract
 I will now deal with Claim A. The conflicting
contentions by the appellant and the respondent resolve themselves
into two intertwined key issues: one is a question of fact and the
other a question of law. The factual question is this: who or what
caused the cracks in the respondent’s property? This question is
tied up with the issue of the alleged unworkmanlike manner in which
the appellant carried out the work. There is also the related
question of whether the appellant completed the work. The legal
question, on the other hand, relates to the effect of the
interpretation and application of Clause 2.4 of the contract.
 In her judgment, the learned magistrate did not deal
with both the factual and the legal questions in any appreciable way
in terms of content and substance. As I see it, there is only one
paragraph (paragraph 12) in the main body of the learned magistrate’s
judgment that touches on these two central and interrelated issues,
and it does so tangentially. Paragraph 12 of the judgment reads, and
I reproduce it as it is:
dealing with the individual claim certain provisions of the contract
and document before this honourable court need to be considered. At
this stage, having regards to the nature and terms of this agreement,
one need simply draw attention to the general and inconvertible
proposition that for the plaintiff to succeed. The contract
determines the respective rights and obligations of the parties in
relation to matter covered by the contract. It constitutes conclusive
evidence of the value of works and amount due to the contractor. The
fundamental principle that the object can only be attained when each
party states his/her case with the precision obviously depends on the
circumstances of each case.
Then, there are references in the learned magistrate’s
order to the said N$16,000.00. Paragraph 17.1, which I set out
previously, states: “Plaintiff has failed to prove on balance of
probabilities that defendant had intention not to pay the amount of
N$16,000.00.” And paragraph 17.4 in material part reads: “The
amount of N$16,000.00 that is still payable will be suspended pending
the completion of unfinished work and rectify defects by the
plaintiff.” Thus, these two aspects of the learned magistrate’s
order, in my opinion, only make opaque references to the two critical
issues in this case.
 I proceed to deal with the factual question. In
order to assist the court below to make a determination, three
experts – all civil engineers – gave evidence. I will only
mention the main thrust of the expert opinion of each expert.
According to Mr. Le Roux, the main cause of the cracks was the
weathered material of the foundation that became moist because of the
rains and that had in turn caused subsidence. For Mr. Brinkman, the
cracks were caused by natural phenomena such as movement under the
foundations of the old portion of the house. Mr. Godo’s expert
opinion, on the other hand, was that the cracks were caused by the
removal of the northern and southern walls by the appellant that
disturbed the structural integrity of the house.
 It would appear from the judgment that
the learned magistrate rejected the evidence of Mr. Brinkman and Mr.
Le Roux and accepted Mr. Godo’s evidence. The learned magistrate
does not indicate the reasons for her decision. Mr. Verwey submitted
that the learned magistrate erred in so doing and referred me to
textual authorities in support of his argument. I do not propose to
examine all the authorities in detail. Suffice to mention that the
irrefragable import of those authorities is that expert opinion is
sought to give guidance and assistance to the court because the
expert’s skill is considered greater than that of the court.
In this connection, it has been held that “the true and practical
test of the admissibility of opinion of a skilled witness is whether
or not the Court can receive ‘appreciable help’ from that witness
on the particular issue.”
 From the record, I do not see what ‘appreciable
help’ the court below could have received from the three experts.
First, their opinions were based on speculation and conjecture. There
is no evidence that any one of them did any real scientific and
empirical analysis of the problem. Indeed, all of them were of the
opinion that a more in-depth analysis ought to have been done to
determine the real cause of the cracks. For instance, in his report,
Mr. Brinkman stated that the effect of the removal of the northern
and southern walls “on the structural integrity of the building
needs to be confirmed with some structural analysis” in order to
come to a definitive conclusion. As Mr. Pickering correctly
submitted, crucial to Mr. Le Roux’s opinion was the incidence of
ponding, i.e. that water had collected and permeated the foundation.
But under cross-examination Mr Le Roux stated that he had no evidence
to support his theory. The sources of the formulation of Mr. Godo’s
opinion were a report prepared by Mr. Le Roux and certain drawings:
he did not carry out any scientific and empirical analysis of the
problem, as a scientist should do. It would also appear from the
tenor of the language used in his evidence that Mr. Godo was more
interested in pleasing his client, the respondent, than giving an
expert opinion that was of appreciable help to the court below.
 In my respectful view, the expert opinions of Mr.
Le Roux and Mr. Brinkman on the one hand and that of Mr. Godo on the
other were mutually destructive to each other. In such a case the
proper approach, in my view, was for the court below to have applied
its mind not only to the merits and demerits of the two sets of
expert opinions but also their probabilities, and it was only after
so applying its mind that the court would have been justified in
reaching the conclusion as to which opinion to accept and which to
 For the foregoing reasons, I am of the opinion that
Mr. Verwey’s submission that the learned magistrate erred in
finding that the appellant was responsible for the cracks that
appeared in some of the walls of the respondent’s house is well
founded. In the result, I have come to the conclusion that, with
respect, the learned magistrate clearly misdirected herself because
her reasons for so finding were based upon a false premise.
 On the related question of non-completion of the
contract work, it seems to me that the appellant acknowledged that
the contract work was uncompleted. In his re-examination of Mr. J.P.
Schmidt, who managed the project for the appellant, Mr. Dicks,
counsel for the appellant in the court below, asked the following
Mr. J. P.
Schmidt the two minor aspects that you highlighted as not being
complete on Mr. Scholtz’s list and any other minor retention works
that might be outstanding, will you be willing to rectify them?
Mr. Schmidt’s answer was:
Yes. If we
gain access to the property and we are allowed to do it and obviously
if we will receive payments for the work that is outstanding and if
we get a guarantee that we will receive our money then obviously we
will go and repair retention work that is our responsibility.
 I understand Mr. Schmidt to be saying that the
appellant also acknowledges that it has not completed the contract
work. I will return to this observation in due course.
 I now proceed to deal with the legal issue
concerning Clause 2.4 of the contract. That clause reads:
For this purpose the owner hereby renounces his right of
retention and hereby authorises the Building Society and/or financial
institution to pay to the contractor such amounts at such times as
the contractor requires. For this purpose the owner cedes to the
contractor any and all amounts irrevocably and in rem suam, and
furthermore cedes to the contractor all such amounts as may be come
due to the owner in respect of an agreement of loan, which the owner
may have entered into with the Building Society or any financial
institution, the owner hereby granting the making over to the
contractor all such rights as the owner may have against the Building
Society and/or financial institution in respect of any loan granted
to the owner and any amount payable in respect thereof.
 Mr. Verwey argued strenuously that the
learned magistrate’s finding that certain clauses of the agreement,
in particular the above-quoted Clause 2.4, were unfair and
unreasonable toward the respondent was wrong in law. He submitted
that upon the authority of Makono v Nguvauva,
the respondent was bound by the pleadings and the respondent had not
pleaded mistake, duress or undue influence; neither had he prayed for
rectification of the contract. Consequently, counsel submitted, the
respondent’s counsel could not argue from the bar that certain
clauses of the agreement were unreasonable and unfair when the
respondent admitted during the hearing in the court below that he
signed the agreement voluntarily. In sum, according to Mr. Verwey, in
terms of Clause 2.4 of the agreement the respondent expressly and
unequivocally renounced his right of retention, he understood the
effect of that clause and he had not asked for a rectification of the
contract. Counsel submitted, therefore, that the withholding of the
N$16,000.00 by the respondent amounted to retention of money,
something the respondent had expressly renounced in terms of the said
 Mr. Pickering argued contrariwise with
equal vigour and force thus: in this case, the Court should consider
the unfairness of the said Clause 2.4, for the idea that the only
criterion for judging a contract was whether it was voluntary was
outdated. Counsel argued further in this connection that the
appellant’s submission in support of the enforceability of Clause
2.4 based on voluntariness (or lack of duress) and contractual
freedom was in conflict with reality, because “in many contracts
some terms are too complex to enable a layman to predict the
Counsel submitted that in the Supreme Court case of T A Eysselinck
v Standard Bank of Namibia, Stannic Division and another
“compelling considerations of fairness” led the Court to decide
in favour of the appellant.
 I understood Mr Pickering to argue that “compelling
considerations of fairness” should also lead me to decide the
question relating to Clause 2.4 in the respondent’s favour.
 On this point, Mr. Verwey asked me not
to follow Eysselinck, supra, because that case was
distinguishable from the present one, considering the peculiar facts
of that case. I have carefully studied the Eysselinck case.
The analyses made and the conclusions reached in that case are
undoubtedly insightful and limpid. But I do not see how the decision
in that case can assist the respondent. Eysselinck concerns
the principle that estoppel can be based on a representation by
conduct if the representee can show that he or she reasonably
understood the representation in the sense contended for him or her
and that the representer should have expected that his or her conduct
could mislead the representee: it is not required that the
representee must show that the conduct in question amounted to a
precise and unequivocal representation.
 The underlined words that Mr.
Pickering quoted in his submission were taken from the following
passage in Eysselinck: “This is a case where, if there ever
was one, the owner should, even if there was no culpa on its side, be
“precluded from asserting his rights by compelling
considerations of fairness within the broad concept of exceptio
It is my considered view that, on the facts, the decision in
Eysselinck cannot apply to the matter before me, particularly
because unlike in Eysselinck, in the present matter no
fraudulent or suchlike dealings have been shown to be at play. Thus,
with all due respect, I do not find Eysselinck of any real
assistance on the point under consideration.
 I must now decide whether Clause 2.4
of the contract is enforceable. It has been said, “At common law an
employer has the right to reduce the contract price by the amount it
would cost to remedy any defective work caused by inferior
The amount so withheld is normally referred to as ‘retention
Thus, in effect, “retention money is money set aside as security
for the due completion of the work and to enable a fund to be
available to rectify defects which have not been rectified by the
Of that there would appear to be no dispute.
 What is in contention is that, according to Mr.
Verwey, by signing the contract, the respondent expressly and
unequivocally renounced his common law right of retention and that
the renunciation of the right of retention is not uncommon in
building contracts. Mr. Pickering’s response was simply that such a
clause must be adjudged by this Court to be unenforceable – as the
court below did, albeit in an indirect way – because it is unfair,
unreasonable and oppressive. But, according to Mr. Verwey, as I
understood him to say, the said Clause 2.4 could not be said to be
unfair and unreasonable because the respondent has remedies under
Clause 5.2 and 5.3 of the contract. Clause 5.2 provides:
completion of the works shall be deemed to be the date upon which the
contractor advised the owner that the works are reasonably complete
and the owner agrees to accept the works. The owner shall thereupon
inspect the works and provide the contractor with a list of work
remaining to be completed. The defects liability period shall
commence from this date.
And Clause 5.3 provides:
contractor shall at his own expense make good all patent defects
which may arise due to poor workmanship or faulty materials used and
which occur within 3 months of date of practical completion of the
construction works. The contractor’s liability for latent defects
shall be one year from the date of completion of the construction
 In his submission, Mr. Verwey reasoned
that if the appellant did not comply with the above-quoted
provisions, the respondent could sue for specific performance or
damages. He relied on T Scheffler v Institute for Management
and some textual authorities. With due respect, I do not also find
Scheffler of any real assistance on the issue under
examination. The appeal in that case was against the finding of the
trial magistrate that the respondent was entitled to rectify the
written agreement in question on account of the common error made by
the parties with regard to the duration of the contract. The question
of common error has not been raised in the present case at all. The
point Mr. Pickering raised was rather the unreasonableness and
unfairness of Clause 2.4.
 In his authoritative work, The Law
of Contract in South Africa, Christie writes:
parties have made an onerous or one-sided, unreasonable or even
grossly inequitable contract it is not for the court to amend it out
of sympathy with either or both of the parties, unless it is so
unconscionable or oppressive as to be contrary to public policy.
I do not think Clause 2.4 of the contract is so
unconscionable or oppressive as to be contrary to public policy for
two reasons. First, it was not contended on behalf of the respondent
that renunciation by employers of their common law right of retention
was not common in building contracts. Second, the respondent has
adequate remedies under Clauses 5.2 and 5.3 of the contract. Thus, in
the view I take of Clause 2.4, I hold that the learned magistrate’s
finding that that clause is unfair and unreasonable was wrong.
 In his heads of argument, Mr. Pickering submitted
that the Building Society was not prepared to pay the outstanding
amount of N$16,000.00 because of defective work rendered by the
appellant. I cannot say anything about that because the Building
Society is not party to the contract; neither is it a party to these
 I turn now to deal with the
plaintiff’s Claim B, which, as I mentioned previously, is based on
an alleged oral agreement between the appellant and the respondent
for additional work at the alleged price of N$21,650.00. The fact in
issue – the factum probandum – which has been placed in
issue by the pleadings and which the appellant must prove in order to
succeed on his claim is the existence of the alleged oral agreement.
And it is trite law that if a person claims something from another in
a court of law then he or she has to satisfy the court that he or she
is entitled to it.
Of course, the standard of proof required is a balance or
preponderance of probabilities. It follows, therefore, that in order
to succeed in his claim under Claim B, the appellant must prove the
agreement on which the relies – i.e. both the existence of the oral
agreement and its terms.
 I do not see anything on the record that
constitutes proof of the existence of the oral agreement on a balance
of probabilities. Indeed, in my view, it is more probable than not,
as the respondent contended, that the so-called additional work was
part of the written contract work, if one took into account the fact
that there is no evidence of a quotation, particularizing such items
as the price of materials and labour and VAT that are common in the
building industry, particularly when the alleged additional work was
extra to the written contract work as aforesaid. This is crucial
because the important question that arises is this: how did the
appellant arrive at the amount of N$21,650.00 as the oral agreement
price of the alleged additional work? I do not think that Exhibit
“O”, a letter dated 21 April 2001 from the appellant’s legal
practitioners to the respondent, containing prices for tiling,
fitting of bedroom and cupboards and kitchen cupboards and painting,
does prove the oral agreement.
 With the greatest respect, I cannot accept Mr.
Verwey’s argument that the sentence “This invoice excludes
charges for any extras not included in contract” in Exhibit “L”
is proof that additional work was done and that the appellant was
putting the respondent on notice that an invoice for the additional
work would follow in due course. Exhibit “L” is a letter, dated
10 April 2001, under the hand of H. Schmidt, addressed to the
respondent. What was so difficult, if one may ask, for the appellant
to have attached an invoice for the additional work to Exhibit “L”,
if, indeed, the plaintiff did additional work for the respondent in
terms of an oral agreement, which it had apparently completed by 10
April 2001? One must not lose sight of the fact that the above-quoted
sentence is merely a postscript to the said letter of demand (i.e.
Exhibit “L”). I cannot see how that postscript can assist the
plaintiff’s case. I respectfully agree with Mr. Pickering that the
postscript could not prove the alleged oral agreement: the evidence,
I think, supports the correctness of this view.
 In the result, I have come to the inescapable
conclusion that the appellant has failed to prove the oral agreement.
In the result, Claim B must fail. Having so held, I do not have any
good reason to interfere with the learned magistrate’s decision to
reject Claim B as unproved.
 I pass to deal with the respondent’s
counter-claim. In her judgment, the learned magistrate upheld the
respondent’s counter-claim, and made the following order in
relation thereto, which for the sake of completeness, I reproduce
here once more and as it is:
Plaintiff has in totally fail to
perform completely and deliver quality work as per agreement as such
defective and poor workmanship call for proper assessment. As result
plaintiff is order to remedy such defects by appointing structural
engineer to do proper assessment in order to rectify those defects
and deliver a quality workmanlike performance. The recommendation
made by Mr. Godo and Mr. Le Roux must be considered in such
Plaintiff is ordered to the
Defendant an amount of N$50,647.50 additional works that emanate
from poor workmanship of the Plaintiff’s conduct.
 In his submission, Mr. Pickering
conceded that there was an element of undue enrichment if the two
aspects of the above order (i.e. (1) and (2) above) were taken
separately; but, in his view, that should not affect the judgment of
the magistrate in its entirety on the matter of the respondent’s
counter-claim. For, according to him, upon the authority of Claasen
v African Batignolles Construction (Pty) Ltd,
this Court has discretion to determine the quantum of damages claimed
by the respondent.
 With the greatest respect, I do not
read Claaasen to lay down any such principle; neither do I
think Claasen can be of assistance in determining the quantum
of damages. On the facts before it, the Court in Claasen said
that if the defendant considered it was entitled to claim
compensation for improvements it should have filed a counter-claim;
it would then have ensured the simultaneous adjudication of the claim
In casu, the respondent has filed a counter-claim in which he
claims damages. Be that as it may, it is my considered view that
before the Court can exercise its discretion judicially in
determining the quantum of damages – as it must – the respondent
must (1) prove that the plaintiff did cause the damage or harm for
which he seeks compensation in the form of damages, and then (2) put
forward credible evidence on how the amount of N$50,647.50 was
arrived at to enable the Court to make a fair and just determination.
On (1), I have already found that the learned magistrate was wrong in
finding that the plaintiff was responsible for the cracks that
the respondent’s house. Having so found, it will serve
no purpose for me to determine the quantum of damages. That being the
case, the respondent cannot succeed in his counter-claim.
 For the conclusions I have come to above and the
reasons I have given therefor, I hold that (1) the appellant succeeds
in his Claim A; (2) the appellant fails in his Claim B; and (3) the
respondent fails in his counter-claim.
 I turn now to deal with the matter of costs. I find
that Clause 11 of the contract provides for an alternative dispute
resolution (ADR) mechanism. There is no evidence that the parties did
attempt to take advantage of this domestic remedy before resorting to
judicial proceedings in the court below. In my respectful opinion,
the procedures in Clause 11 could have greatly assisted the parties
in resolving their dispute outside the surrounds of the Court. What
is the point, if I may ask, in providing for the ADR mechanism in the
contract if the parties were not prepared to try it out? I have taken
these observations into account in deciding whether to grant costs.
 Accordingly, I make the following order:
The learned magistrate’s order is set aside
and the following order substituted therefor:
The respondent shall pay to the appellant the amount of
N$16,000.00 not later than one calendar month from the date of this
judgment, and the amount shall attract interest at the rate of 20%
per annum from the date of expiration of the one-month period.
Having taken into account what I have said in
the next preceding paragraph, coupled with the fact that neither the
appellant nor the respondent was substantially successful in his
claim, there will be no order as to costs.
Parker, A J
ON BEHALF OF THE APPELLANT: Adv. C
Instructed by: Theunissen, Louw
ON BEHALF OF THE RESPONDENT: Adv.
A G Pickering
Instructed by: Shikongo Law