The Supreme Court of Appeal reminded us that the act of self-defence is justifiable if it is reasonable defensive action taken against an imminent act of aggression. Future danger, danger which is not imminent or conduct that has ceased to constitute danger does not entitle one to raise the defence. The act of defence is justifiable only if, objectively, it was reasonably necessary for the purpose of self-protection and not excessive to the threatened harm.

Extreme disproportionality renders the defensive action unjustifiable.

In this matter the plaintiff aggressively approached a municipal official who was engaged in demolishing houses. The plaintiff was armed with a long piece of sharpened metal which he described as a spear and a plastic shield. The official initially fired teargas filled plastic balls which left the attacker undeterred. He then used his 9mm pistol and fired four shots into the ground warning the attacker verbally to turn back. The plaintiff continued to advance. The official stepped back and tripped and fell. While he was on his back the plaintiff stabbed him in the abdomen with a spear and prepared for a second stab. Fearing for his life the official fired three shots hitting the plaintiff in the abdomen. The plaintiff sued for damages.

There was no evidence that at the time anyone lost their homes and belongings. Only newly built, incomplete and uninhabited structures were destroyed.  No-one was killed or even injured during the demolitions. The plaintiff had no right to attack the official with a spear as he did. The alleged defensive action of the plaintiff was unreasonable and that of the official was reasonable. The claim was dismissed.

The case is Mngomezulu v Ethekwini Metropolitan Municipality.