WerthSchröder Inc, a Johannesburg firm of attorneys, holds regular legal briefings to educate the general public. If you’re about to sign a contract of any kind, first read these tips from their experts
1. An agreement can be written down, typed out or verbal, or it may even just exist in the minds of the parties. A piece of paper or a signature isn’t always needed. A contract is formed once there is an offer by one party and the other party accepts the offer.
2. Anyone with full legal capacity (usually over 18 years of age) may enter into a contract. There are exceptions, though. A minor younger than seven years cannot enter into a binding contract. Minors older than seven can only enter into a contract if their parent or legal guardian helps them, or their parent/guardian gives their permission for the contract and they later consent to the contract when they turn 18.
3. Make sure that any changes to a contract are in writing and signed, as most written contracts have a term that unless this is done the change is not binding on the parties.
4. You are generally bound by what you sign, so read your contracts before entering them and, whenever possible, get help to explain anything you don’t understand.
5. A ‘voetstoots’ or ‘as is’ clause means you are buying the goods as they appear. In other words, they exclude the seller’s liability for ‘latent defects’. These are faults of the goods that existed when the parties entered the contract, and were not ‘visible’ after a ‘reasonable’ inspection. These clauses are perfectly legal, except in ‘credit agreements’ under the National Credit Act. If you buy something that later turns out to have something wrong with it, and the contract contained a ‘voetstoots’ clause, you will normally still be bound by that contract, unless the Consumer Protection Act saves the day for you.
6. When buying anything in a shop, presenting it to the cashier constitutes an offer, not an acceptance. What the shop-owner displays (including the price tag) is an invitation to offer (‘invitation ad offerendum’), not an offer, which a party might accept. The shop-owner is entitled to tell the customer that the price tag was wrong and the pair of shoes in fact costs R3 000, not R300 as the tag incorrectly stated.