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It’s a story familiar to big corporates: dragging deficient local municipalities to court to get them to do their jobs. In a recent instance, the Supreme Court of Appeal (SCA) had to adjudicate between mining companies and two constitutionally overstepping municipalities in Mpumalanga. The companies stepped out of the ring triumphant.

Swiss-based miner and trader Glencore, with coal affiliates of Phembani Group and two others, sued the eMalahleni and Govan Mbeki local municipalities, claiming the councils overstepped their legislative powers. The municipalities published new bylaws within a week of each other in February 2016, placing excessive restrictions on the transfer of land...

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