Pretoria - A legal tussle regarding the ownership of a 2017 Chevrolet resulted in three court applications, with the Supreme Court of Appeal finally having the last word on the matter.
On the one hand is Ronel Smit, in whose name the vehicle was bought, and on the other, her now former lover Calvin Kleynhans, who said he was the person paying for the vehicle.
The couple broke up about a year after the vehicle was bought.
During their relationship, Kleynhans drove the car and paid the instalments, but when they broke up, he refused to give it back.
Smit reasoned that the vehicle was registered in her name, thus she was the owner. Kleynhans maintained that he paid for it, thus he could keep it.
Smit at first went to the Grahamstown Magistrate’s court in to force Kleynhans to return the vehicle. That court ruled in her favour and Kleynhans was told to give the Chevrolet back.
Unhappy with the finding, Kleynhans appealed against the ruling in the high court, where he won.
But Smit took the matter to the Supreme Court of Appeal, where the scales swung in her favour again.
During June 2017, Smit concluded a written instalment sale agreement, with General Motors South Africa Financial Services, in terms of which she purchased the Chevrolet.
While still in love with Kleynhans, she also concluded an oral agreement with him, stating that he would have the exclusive use and enjoyment of the vehicle for his personal benefit. However, he had to pay her R5 000 each month, which was her instalment for the car.
When they broke up a year later, she wanted her car back but there was a resultant silence pertaining to the fate of the vehicle from his side.
This was the beginning of Smit's woes, as Kleynhans’s payments to her also became erratic. He then flatly refused to return the vehicle.
His stance was that once the car was fully paid for, he would be the owner.
The question before the Supreme Court was whether Smit had the right to have the physical control of the vehicle restored to her, based on her ownership.
Under the written agreement between the company that financed the car and Smit, she was not the owner of the vehicle; the creditor retained ownership until all the amounts owed were paid in full, Judge Sulet Potterill said.
Although Smit was the bona fide possessor of the vehicle and bore all the risk of loss and damage in respect of it in terms of the agreement, that did not automatically entitle her to reclaim the vehicle through the right of ownership.
However, the Supreme Court found that a bona fide possessor is entitled to reclaim possession of the vehicle.
It found that as Kleynhans breached their oral agreement by not paying the full monthly instalment, Smit was entitled to the return of the vehicle.