From an academic point of view a sale has taken place when the parties agree on the price and on the items sold even if they have not yet paid the price or delivered the item. It also has a wider meaning that requires delivery of the property to the buyer before the sale is completed.

The SABC tried the academic argument in SABC v Masstores to get R7.5 million penalties out of Masstores and rightly failed.

A television dealer who sells a television set to a customer who does not have a licence is liable for a penalty of R3 000 for the sale of each television set (s 27(4) of the Broadcasting Act 1999). Masstores sold 2 500 television sets to an educational body and kept them in the storeroom till the client could produce the required licences. The SABC said that the sets had been sold and the penalty was due.

The court made the obvious point that in the context of not wanting people to watch television without paying for a licence, delivery is an indispensable requirement before the penalty can be invoked. Any other construction would produce a manifest absurdity and the SABC’s argument was said to be ‘quite wrong and insupportable’.

Every interpretation of a statute, particularly relating to commercial dealings needs a sensible and business-like construction.