The Competition Act (‘Act’) is first and foremost national in its focus. This is clear from its objects set out in the Act’s Preamble and Purpose. Although the Act makes reference to international law obligations, participation in world markets and the role of foreign competition in the Republic, to look at the role of South Africa in competition law’s global village, the key is not to be found in that language, but rather in the continuing development and application of South Africa’s competition policy.

Now in its 19th year, the South African authorities (that includes the Competition Commission, Tribunal and Appeal Court) have enjoyed a leading status amongst developing competition law jurisdictions. The authorities have been recognized by peers in other jurisdictions, global bodies and practitioners for their pioneering role in development of a comprehensive body of competition law and policy, often punching above their weight category, particularly in relation to the role of competition law in socio- and development economics. Some have taken fright at the suggestions advanced which appear to promote the well-being of local businesses and the public interest above consumer welfare as the true-north of anti-trust.

This development of law and policy as well as the well-earned status does not come about simply by practicing in one’s back garden. Far from that, South Africa has gone out in the international arena participating and joining allegiance with others, perhaps sometimes as a more junior partner and in other cases as a more experienced adopter of the competition global wave. There are MOU’s enshrining cooperation with the EC, Brazil, Russia, India, China, Mauritius, Kenya and Namibia. In addition, South Africa has membership of the SADC, African Competition and BRICS fora. The authorities have also benefitted greatly from their active participation in ICN and UNCTAD networks and their staff continue to receive extensive training from leading world authorities and experts. The authorities learn from others and take an active lead in passing on their experience and challenging orthodox views.


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This post was originally published as a bulletin on Fasken.com under the title “Unpacking the Competition Amendment Bill: Market Inquiries“.

The Competition Amendment Bill seeks to address two key structural challenges in the South African economy: concentration, and the racially-skewed spread of ownership of firms in the economy.

At the 11th Annual Competition Law, Economics and Policy Conference in September 2017, the Minister of Economic Development, Ebrahim Patel, made the following comment when explaining how economic concentration might be tackled:

It seems to me to be better that it be done through the trusted and predictable processes of competition regulation and its sound institutions than that it be left to laws that simply mandate the breakup of companies irrespective of the economic logic…”.

Market inquiries are seen as one of the five priorities in addressing this objective.  The Background Note published with the Amendment Bill states –

The package of amendments… envisage that market inquiries will become the chief mechanism for analysing and tackling the structural problems in a market, thereby advancing the purposes of the Act. The proposed amendments to the chapter relating to market inquiries will enhance the market inquiry process and will ensure that its outcomes include measures to address concentration and the transformation of ownership.


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The South African Competition Commission has since the beginning of 2017 prohibited eleven intermediate mergers and has recommended that four large mergers be prohibited.  This number is substantially higher than 2016, when the Commission prohibited three intermediate mergers and recommended that one large merger be prohibited.  For the period end of September to October 2017, the Commission prohibited five mergers.

This note will briefly look at two important and interesting trends that followed from the prohibitions of proposed mergers in South Africa since the beginning of 2017.

A move to take “coordinated effects” of the proposed merger into account

The first trend in the prohibition of mergers is a move to look at the “coordinated effects” of a proposed merger (a change in the market structure which better facilitates tacit collusion). In this regard the Commission adopted a policy favouring less concentration in markets and looking at a history of collusion in the market.


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One might think that competition law would applaud a firm that submits an independent and competitive bid, in response to a tender aimed at lowering prices.  Recent experience in South Africa suggests that this is not always the case, and that such a firm may face investigation by the competition authorities precisely because it won the competitive tender.

In October 2017, the South African Competition Commission announced that it has initiated, and is investigating, a complaint of abuse of dominance by Vodacom, the country’s largest cellular network services provider.

The subject of the complaint is a four year exclusive contract, in terms of which Vodacom will supply mobile telecommunications services to 20 government departments.

Although Vodacom bid for the contract in a competitive tender process, the Commission “is of the view” that the contract will (1) further entrench Vodacom’s dominant position in the relevant market; (2) raise barriers to entry and expansion in the relevant market; (3) distort competition in the market; and (4) result in a loss of market share for other network operators.

Leaving aside the merits of the complaint, the announcement is interesting and controversial for a number of reasons.  In particular, it raises important questions about the Commission’s advocacy strategy, and about the obligations on business when participating in significant tenders.


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Merger clearance in South Africa is not easy, nor quick. That may be a take-away from observing the recent clearance by the South African authorities of the DowDuPont global merger of equals covering markets for agricultural products, material sciences and chemicals as well as specialized health and electrical products. The merger was cleared some 15 months from the date of filing and then subject to detailed conditions.

We know that each merger will present its own features and issues. But, as in other multinational mergers considered by the competition authorities, certain points arise from the present merger to be considered by those who may be involved in similar transactions.

First, it is important to understand the counterfactual and theory of harm you are dealing with. The counterfactual, a term used to describe the likely position the relevant markets would be in absent the merger, is a necessary and legislatively mandated tool for merger evaluation. For the authority to determine whether the proposed merger will substantially lessen or prevent competition, it must understand fully what the market would look like without the merger. The Commission can then evaluate the merger based upon a theory of harm appropriate to the circumstances. This means they will assess what possible harm to competition will arise from the merger.

If the counterfactual is not clear, or is based upon speculation only, the theory of harm cannot be substantiated. Moreover, in that case, any remedies which are proposed – whether by the parties or the Commission – to address the theory of harm cannot be properly evaluated. This is far from an exact science, especially as one is seeking to predict future behaviour of the parties and others, in markets which are dynamic and environments which change.


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(The full version of this bulletin was originally published on Fasken.com – “The Competition Commission’s Market Inquiry into Data Services” – September 12th, 2017.)

On 18 September 2017, the Competition Commission is expected to commence a market inquiry into data services in South Africa. This is the sixth market inquiry to

pexels-photo-136721On 7 June 2017 the Competition Commission South Africa will commence a market inquiry into the public passenger transport sector. This is the fifth market inquiry to be initiated by the Commission, following inquiries into the LPG, healthcare, grocery retail and banking sectors.

What does the Commission intend to investigate?

In terms of the Terms

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The passive attendee in meetings at which potentially collusive conduct takes place has recently been considered further and developed by the South African Competition Appeal Court in the ‘bicycles case’.

Previously addressed by the South African Competition Tribunal in DPI Plastics Pipes (2012), the Tribunal concluded that an attendee simply cannot stay silent nor

On 17 June 2015, the Competition Appeal Court of South Africa (CAC) overturned the Competition Tribunal’s decision which found Sasol Chemical Industries Limited (Sasol) guilty of excessive pricing.

The CAC’s judgment is thorough and the factual, legal, accounting and economic issues covered are complicated. Although redeeming for Sasol, the judgment may give rise to a number of significant implications for future enforcement action against excessive pricing South Africa.

We set out below a review of the questions raised in the decision as well as the potential implications of the CAC’s answers.

The feedstock debate – Actual costs or notional costs?1

The first and potentially most important question addressed by the CAC related to what the CAC referred to as the ‘feedstock debate’. According to the Competition Act2 , a price charged by a dominant firm is excessive and illegal if it has no reasonable relation to the economic value of the product in question.

In conditions of competition, prices will normally be driven down towards a firm’s costs of production (plus a reasonable return). A firm’s costs (including a reasonable return) therefore usually provide an insightful proxy for the price that would prevail under conditions of competition, and therefore a product’s ‘economic value’.

In the only previous excessive pricing case in South Africa, the Mittal case, the CAC held:

economic value is a notional objective market standard, not one derived from circumstances peculiar to the particular firm… The criterion of economic value…recognizes only the costs that would be recovered in long run competitive equilibrium3.

Sasol has a peculiar cost advantage because it procures its feedstock propylene from its sister company – Sasol Synfuels – at a low internal transfer price. Feedstock propylene is a critical input in the production of purified propylene, which is then converted into polypropylene.

One of the key questions in the Sasol case was how
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