Two consignments of cigarettes which were imported into South Africa from Zimbabwe were stolen in August 2009 by unknown armed robbers during a robbery from a customs and excise warehouse. The owners of the consignment claimed a rebate of customs duty under the Customs and Excise Act which allows a rebate in circumstances of vis major whilst the goods are in a customs and excise warehouse.

The Supreme Court of Appeal reaffirmed that South African law recognises that vis major includes human acts in addition to acts of nature or so-called acts of God. An armed robbery falls within the scope of vis major both under the common law and the rebate provisions.

The rebate was allowed.

In Roman Dutch law you will find references to vis major applying in the context of goods stolen by highway robbers.

The case is SARS v Encarnaçâo N.O.