Malicious damage to property

The question sometimes comes up as to when did malicious damage to property occur, when was it an accident, whether there was intention to do damage, etc.

Malicious damage to property is the unlawful and intentional damaging of property that belongs to another person and this is a crime in South African law.

This damage must be to something physical like harming your dog or other pets or live stock, or intentional damage to any other possession of yours like your furniture, lawnmower a building, a motor vehicle or any other tangible thing and it must be real and cause you financial lost, for instance if the restoration of property cost the owner money, the damage had been done.

In trivial damage, our courts will not convict, for instance, if someone takes the water hose and sprays water all over your car, or maybe your neighbour mows some part of your lawn with his. The courts sees this as de minimis non curat lex and translating this in layman terms it means ‘the law takes no account of trifling matters’. Off Course, using the spraying with a hose as an example again, if someone sprays your flowers or seedlings and it washes away, or dig a hole in your lawn, then you have damage and the court may evict in a case like this.

Any such damage must be intended to damage your property and not be accidental damage. If something is due to negligence like a car accident then such a person cannot be charged with malicious damage to property because there was no intention. If a man shoots a dog attacking his live stock on his land, he cannot be held liable, because he has a right to defend his property on his land.