Zimbabwean leader lauds antitrust efforts

Zimbabwean President Emmerson Mnangagwa recently exalted the benefits of antitrust law at a joint COMESA-CTC (Competition and Tariff Commission of Zimbabwe) conference for sitting judges, held in Victoria Falls. Below is an excerpt of his oral remarks, given at the opening of the event:

“Competition and consumer protection laws, are therefore, key enablers of free, open and liberalised trade between countries and foreign regional integration. Against this backdrop, these laws must continue to enhance consumer interests and the realisation of our country’s development aspirations as set out in the National Development Strategy and Vision 2030. To this end, under the radar are the cartels, and all those who collude in promoting unjustified price increases, illicit activities and currency manipulation for the purposes of realising super profits.

Andreas Stargard, a competition partner at Primerio Ltd., notes that President Mnangagwa was once a practicing attorney himself, prior to his political ascent within the ZANU-PF party, although the precise history of the president’s legal studies and degrees remains somewhat murky. “As a former legal practitioner himself, Mnangagwa knows that an educated judge is a better judge. Thus, his admonition to the members of the judiciary present at the conference (at whom the event was aimed in the first place) to better acquaint themselves with competition law & economics was timely and meaningful,” he said. Stargard adds: “There is hardly anything more frustrating than presenting an antitrust case — which is usually difficult in its own right — to an uninformed judicial decision-maker, who shows little understanding or interest in the subject-matter, or who dismisses economics as extraneous; you cannot practice competition law without an understanding of economics.”

The president concluded: “In our case as Zimbabwe, competition law and the attendant robust policy frameworks are important towards the speedy realisation of Vision 2030, of becoming a prosperous and empowered upper middle income economy. This aspiration will be attained through an effective empowered and agile judicial system, which strives for fairness and increased efficiencies across all the productive sectors of the economy. It is, therefore, most opportune that this workshop is taking place at the stage when our economy is transitioning from stabilisation to growth. To this end judicial staff must be kept updated and knowledgeable about activities taking place in industry and commerce. Undoubtedly, judges and other related stakeholders remain key to the interpretation of competition and consumer protection laws. The intricate nexus between the interpretation and enforcement of laws across sectors of the economy cannot be overemphasised. The judiciary should also address competition issues that arise in disputes before the judicial system. This is pertinent more so that competition law intersects with many fields hence training such as this one is an essential requirement in modern day competition law.”

Breaking: CCC withdraws its recent Merger Practice Note

An AAT-exclusive first report on this — somewhat stunning — development follows below. More details to be published once they become available in a new post…

On August 8th, 2022, the CCC officially announced the formal withdrawal of its Practice Note No. 1 of 2021, which had clarified what it meant for a party to “operate” in the COMESA common market. The announcement mentions that it will (soon? how soon?) be replaced with a revised Practice Note — a somewhat unusual step, in our view, as the revised document could have, or should have, been published simultaneously with the withdrawal of the old one. Otherwise, in the “interim of the void,” legal practitioners and commercial parties evaluating M&A ramifications in the COMESA region will be left with no additional guidance outside the bloc’s basic Competition Regulations and Rules.

Of note, “this clarifying policy document did not stem from the era of Dr. Mwemba’s predecessor (CCC 1.0 as we are wont to call it), but it was already released under Willard’s aegis as then-interim director of the agency,” observes Andreas Stargard, a competition lawyer at Primerio Ltd. He continues: “Therefore, we cannot ascribe this most recent abdication to a change in personnel or agency-leadership philosophy, but rather external factors, such as — perhaps — the apparently numerous inquiries the CCC still received even after implementation of the Note.”

To remind our readers, we had previously reported on AAT as to this (now rescinded) note as follows (Feb. 11, 2021):

The COMESA Competition Commission (“CCC”) issued new guidance today in relation to its application of previously ambiguous and potentially self-contradictory merger-notification rules under the supra-national COMESA regime. As Andreas Stargard, a competition practitioner with Primerio notes:

“This new Practice Note issued by Dr. Mwemba is an extremely welcome step in clarifying when to notify M&A deals to the COMESA authorities. Specifically, it clears up the confusion as to the meaning of the term ‘to operate’ within the Common Market.

Prior conflicts between the 3 operative documents (the ‘Rules’, ‘Guidelines’, and the ‘Regulations’) had become untenable for practitioners to continue without clear guidance from the CCC, which we have now received. I applaud the Commission for taking this important step in the right direction, aligning its merger procedure with the principles of established best-practice jurisdictions such as the European Union.”

New antitrust MoU between COMESA & EEC

No, that’s not the European Economic Community, but rather the slightly less well-known Eurasian Economic Commission (EEC), thank you for asking…

The Memorandum of Understanding, signed in late July in Geneva, is designed to allow the two agencies to “cooperate in addressing anti-competitive conduct in their respective regions, capacity building and research,” according to AAT’s old friend and CCC 2.0 executive, Dr. Willard Mwemba.

His EEC counterpart, Mr. Arman Shakkaliyev, Minister in charge of Competition & Antitrust Regulation, said that the future collaboration “opened up new opportunities” for closer interaction and the sharing of experiences and knowledge as to specific investigations, most notably, in addition to the two agencies planning more standard cooperative ventures such as joint conferences or training seminars.

Says Andreas Stargard, a competition lawyer at Primerio Ltd.:

“This latest MoU represents yet a further step in the clear and unmistakable direction of ever-closer cooperation between enforcement agencies on the African continent that we have seen for a few years now. The advice to be taken from this is fairly simple: Companies operating in more than one country in Africa should take note of this development, as their local ‘competition reputation‘ from one jurisdiction will doubtless precede them in the other, given the information-sharing between African watchdogs, which catches many corporates seemingly unawares…”

Tourvest wins on appeal in precedent-setting cartel case: you don’t become a ‘competitor’ solely by virtue of contracting

CAC ruled in favour of Tourvest nine years after allegedly collusive tender for retail space at Johannesburg airport took place

By Jemma Muller and Nicola Taljaard

In a recent judgment, the South African Competition Appeal Court (“CAC”) provided clarity on the characterization inquiry necessitated by section 4(1)(b) of the Competition Act 89 of 1998. The judgment particularly elucidated the way in which the requirement that the parties must be in an actual or potential horizontal relationship at the time that the offence in issue is committed, must be construed.

The CAC set aside and replaced the Competition Tribunal’s (“Tribunal”) decision wherein it found that Tourvest Holdings (Pty) Ltd (“Tourvest”) was guilty of collusive tendering or price fixing under section 4(1)(b) in relation to tenders issued by Airports Company South Africa (“ACSA”).

The CAC found that Tourvest and the Siyanisiza Trust (“Trust”) agreed to cooperate instead of competing on a tender issued by ACSA by concluding a Memorandum of Understanding (“MoU”) before submitting their separate bids in relation to tenders issued by ACSA. In terms of the MoU, Tourvest agreed to provide the Trust with the expertise, management infrastructure, technology and training that the Trust would require to bid.

Despite the historically vertical relationship between the parties, the Tribunal found that the parties had become actual competitors by submitting separate bids for the same tender (i.e., horizontality by bidding) and potential competitors under the MoU, and alternatively, that the parties became potential competitors by virtue of holding themselves out as competitors submitting bids against one another (i.e., by creating the illusion of competition).

Before scrutinizing the Tribunal’s specific findings in relation to horizontality, the CAC found that the Tribunal misdirected itself by embarking on a characterization inquiry which failed to recognize the character of the parties’ relationship absent the impugned agreement – which relationship was clearly vertical in nature. The CAC explained that, if absent the agreement the parties were not potential competitors, then the agreement could not have removed a potential competitor from the market and could also not have harmed competition, as there was none to start with. The CAC based its reasoning on the purpose of section 4(1)(b) of the Competition Act, which stated as being to penalize ‘conduct which is so egregious that no traditional defence is permitted’. Accordingly, its purpose is not to capture conduct which, correctly characterized, does not harm competition.

With regard to the Tribunal’s specific findings of horizontality, the CAC found that:

  • The submission of separate bids for the same tender could not in and of itself bring the impugned conduct within the ambit of section 4(1)(b);
  • The wording of section 4(1)(b) is clear in that it requires the parties to be in an actual or potential horizontal relationship. Section 4(1)(b) cannot be interpreted to infer strict liability on parties by virtue of them ‘pretending’ to be a competitor (i.e., horizontality by illusion). If parties are ‘ineligible’ to bid as competitors by virtue of their trading environment, they may not be construed as potential competitors. In casu, the Trust was not eligible to participate in the tender as it did not meet the tender criteria; and
  • It is illogical and contrary to the provisions of section 4(1)(b) to conclude that the parties could become competitors in the future by virtue of the tender’s enterprise development purpose. The potential to compete cannot be rationalized from the impugned agreement itself. Rather, it is the (horizontal-or-not) nature of the parties’ relationship at the time the offence in issue is committed, which must be assessed.

Moroccan telecom regulator fines dominant telco USD 1/4 billion

Morocco’s national telco regulator (the Agence Nationale de Réglementation des Télécommunications or ANRT) has concluded, after a years-long investigation started in 2017 and a prior fining decision was taken in 2020, that Maroc Telecom Group had abused its dominant market position in violation of Article 7 of Law No. 104-12.

Says Andreas Stargard, a competition-law attorney at Primerio Ltd., “it is somewhat rare to see non-specialist regulator investigate competition-law violations and impose antitrust fines — particularly, as here, 5-year-long investigations and such enormous fine amounts as those imposed on Maroc Télécom, which is said to have committed various acts in furtherance of its dominance,” including conduct aimed at delaying competitors’ access to local-loop unbundling and entry into broadband. Stargard notes that the total fine of MAD2.45 billion (approx. US$238 million, which includes the prior 2020 fine amount) is now due to be paid, barring a successful appeal by the operator within 30 days.

Competition Commission Releases Online Intermediation Platform Market Inquiry Provisional Summary Report

By Nicola Taljaard

On 13 July 2022, the South African Competition Commission (“Commission”) released a Provisional Summary Report (“Report”) on the Online Intermediation Platforms Market Inquiry (“OIPMI” or “Inquiry”) which was initiated on 19 May 2021. The Commission initiated the Inquiry following reason to believe that certain features of the online intermediation platforms market could be impeding, distorting or restricting competition.

The Commission placed specific emphasis on getting small and medium enterprises (“SMEs”) and historically disadvantaged persons (“HDPs”) to participate in the relevant markets, and premised the Inquiry on the following competition and public interest considerations in relation to market features:

  • Hampering competition between the actual platforms;
  • Hindering competition between business users or undermining consumer choice;
  • Giving rise to abusive treatment of business users; and
  • Which may have disadvantageous impacts on the ability of SMEs and/or HDPs to participate in the market.

The Commission further noted a lack of participation by HDPs as a common thread which prevails in the online intermediation platforms market, which seems to languish in an untransformed state relative to the broader South African economy.

The remedial action proposed in the Inquiry ranges in severity based on the impacts which the market features have on competition, particularly in relation to SMEs or HDPs. The leading platforms on which the remedial actions are proposed are the Apple App and Google Play stores, Takealot, Property 24 and Private Property, Autotrader and Cars.co.za, Booking.com and Airbnb, Mr. Delivery and UberEats, and Google. Although the Commission did not consider it necessary to enter a dominance inquiry, it did remark that these platforms show features of dominance when considering their positions in the respective markets.

In addition to the more general constructive proposals, the Commission also suggests provisional remedies which are more robust, including against Google, stating that it plays an integral role in how consumers interact with relevant platforms. In this regard the Commission intends to further its inquiry into the viability of keeping Google Search as the default search on mobile devices in South Africa.

The OIPMI came to the provisional conclusion that the digital economy is deficient in relation the country’s transformation goals and deviates significantly from the transformation trends of other traditional industries. The lack of transformation in most of the industries investigated as part of the intermediation platforms continues to display major barriers to entry for HDP entrepreneurs. This conclusion is particularly pertinent in light of the ever-widening digital divide.  

The Commission has made all of the documents and public submissions in relation to the Inquiry, as well as the Summary Report (which can be accessed here) available on its website. The public has six weeks within which to submit comments to the Summary Report, after which the Inquiry body has committed to consider the views and incorporate changes, where appropriate, to the final report and findings which will be released in November 2022.

Toyota’s distribution & pricing agreements under COMESA scrutiny

Regional bloc’s antitrust enforcer further steps up investigations in the Common Market

By Gina Lodolo
On 16 June 2022, the Common Market for Eastern and Southern Africa (“COMESA”)’s Competition Commission (“CCC”) provided notice, as required by Article 22 of the COMESA Regulations (“Regulations”), that it launched an investigation into Toyota Tsusho Corporation (“Toyota”) in case no. CCC/ACBP/NI/3/2022.


Where the CCC has reason to believe that competition in the Common Market has been restrained, Article 22 of the Regulations requires the entity involved to be notified of the investigation, and further requires the investigation to be completed within 180 days of the notification. In this regard, the Toyota investigation was launched following allegations that the company contravened Article 16 of the Regulations. Article 16 (generally covering ‘restrictive business practices’) prohibits agreements that “may affect trade between Member States; and have as their object or effect the prevention, restriction or distortion of competition within the Common Market”.


The specific conduct referred to by Dr. Willard Mwemba, the Director and Chief Executive Officer of COMESA — who has revitalised the relatively young antitrust authority’s conduct investigations and increased its caché internationally by following best practices and engaging competition practitioners globally in the agency’s development and capacity-building process — includes Toyota’s distribution agreements with its authorised distributors. These vehicle distributors sell Toyota cars, trucks, and spare parts across the region, within their contractually designated territories. In this regard, the CCC is now investigating suspicions that the distribution agreements violate Article 16 of the Regulations in various ways — they may:
• Provide prohibitions on authorised distributors to sell outside of allocated geographic areas;
• Prohibit authorised distributors from indirectly selling outside of allocated geographic areas through selling to third parties, who they suspect will sell or transfer to another territory; and
• Indicate resale price maintenance by providing prices of Toyota products in the Common Market.

Andreas Stargard, a competition partner at Primerio Ltd. said, “this development shows how ‘CCC 2.0’ is truly emerging as a fully-fledged African antitrust enforcement authority and not a mere merger ‘toll booth’ regulator, which it essentially was for the first few years of its existence. The CCC has come a long way from the early days and is now pursuing abuse-of-dominance cases that it would not have had the capacity to tackle a decade ago”. Stargard observes that the Toyota case is “now the 3rd announced anticompetitive-business practice investigation of the year 2022 so far,” which is an absolute record for the CCC. “We’re talking proper grey-market / parallel-export restriction and RPM investigations here, this is no longer just a merger-fee collections agency.”

The agency invites public comment and further insight into Toyota’s dealings by 30th of July. Interested parties are invited to make comments to the Commission by 30 July 2022.

Doris Tshepe to lead Africa’s major antitrust enforcer as of September 2022

On 9th June 2022, the Minister of Trade, Industry and Competition, Mr Ebrahim Patel, announced his decision to appoint Ms. Doris Tshepe as the new Commissioner of the South African Competition Commission (“SACC”). Ms Tshepe will succeed outgoing Commissioner Tembinkosi Bonakele.

Minister Patel’s announcement comes as somewhat of a surprise to observers, given Commissioner Bonakele’s nine-year tenure and instrumentality in increasing merger and cartel enforcement within South Africa, whilst also advocating and advancing the role of the ‘public interest’ in both of these aspects. Under the leadership of Commissioner Bonakele, the SACC has been considered widely as an agency of international importance.

Andreas Stargard and Outgoing Commissioner Tembinkosi Bonakele (South Africa)

Commissioner Bonakele’s successor, Ms Doris Tshepe, is a well-regarded attorney with extensive experience. Her legal practice spans over 20 years, during which she specialised in constitutional and administrative law, legislative drafting, media and communication law, commercial law, competition law and employment law.  Additionally, Ms Tshepe has significant investigatory experience, having been involved in the SACC’s previous market inquiries into the Liquid Petroleum Gas and Grocery Retail sectors as well as being a panel member for the recent Online Markets Inquiry. In addition to her investigative experience, Ms Tshepe also has legislative chops, having sat on a 2019 panel considering the recent amendments to the South African Competition Act.  Says John Oxenham, a South African antitrust attorney: “Future Commissioner Tshepe’s long history of working with the SACC and others to shape the current enforcement approach of the agency (as well as its trajectory for the future) indicates that the Commission’s focus will remain steady and sharp. I do not foresee any wavering in the course of the SACC’s currently robust operations, due to the transition in its leadership.”

Bearing Ms Tshepe’s investigative history in mind, we can generally expect her to continue Commissioner Bonakele’s strong enforcement initiatives. Having been appointed to the panel on the amendment of the Competition Act, there is also a reasonable likelihood that we will see the SACC continue implementing, if not increasing, its long-standing public-interest agenda – particularly given the transformative socio-economic objects of South African legislation, say the competition practitioners at Primerio Ltd.

Lastly, we note that not all is over at the SACC for “Tembi” — Minister Patel has stated that there are discussions with outgoing Commissioner Bonakele regarding the delegation of an appropriate set of responsibilities that would allow him to utilize his skills and experience in competition and public policy after his departure. Again, although the details of these responsibilities are unknown, Minister Patel’s statement emphasizes the increased shift towards a public-policy centric competition regime. 

Ms Tshepe is expected to assume her position as Commissioner of the Competition Commission during the course of September 2022.

Incoming Commissioner Doris Tshepe

African antitrust authority edges closer to becoming price regulator

The South African Competition Commission warns against unjustifiable price increases of basic foods, particularly edible oil

By Gina Lodolo and Nicola Taljaard

Recent increases in the prices of edible oils have been the focus of news reports. Some retailers have been garnering particular attention for limiting the amount of oil that can be purchased per consumer.

The Chief Economist of the South African Competition Commission (“SACC”), James Hodge, highlighted the price of oil increasing by 42% over a year. This is significant as it reflects 3%-5% of poorer households’ food budget. It has been reported that, although there were already market factors last year affecting the price of oil, the Russia-Ukraine war has certainly exacerbated the situation. Hodge warns, however, that retailers and edible oil companies alike should not unreasonably use the Russia-Ukraine war to raise prices to unjust levels by inflating their price increases more than necessary, thereby seeking to earn ‘excessive profits’.

The SACC will look into the issue more closely. If and when the SACC comes to the conclusion that companies profiteer from their customers, they will act accordingly.

Where costs go up, there may be justifiable increases in prices, however, its recent warning against unjustifiable increases indicates that it will act where prices increase beyond justifiable cost-increase levels. Accordingly, the SACC is considering items that indicate unusual increases, even when taking into consideration the prevailing inflationary environment.

To this effect, Hodge emphasised that the SACC makes use of its ‘monitoring unit’ which tracks price increases by comparing increases in wholesale prices to increases in retail prices.

The work of the monitoring unit is particularly timely in light of its recent Report on Essential Food Pricing Monitoring, which was released on 1 March 2022. The Report clearly communicated the SACC’s intention to start tracking price increases and monitoring dynamics prevalent in the South African food value chain, which made it apparent that the SACC is cognizant of the impact of the significant disruptions and events which have characterized the pandemic years. The SACC has identified this impact to reflect particularly through supply chain disruptions, trade restrictions, border closures and the like.  

Should the SACC suspect that retail price increases have surpassed wholesale price increases, complaints may be initiated by the SACC in terms of Section 49B of the Competition Act 89 of 1998. Thereafter, the complaint will be investigated in terms of Section 49B(3) of the Act to determine whether it will be referred to the Competition Tribunal for adjudication.   

And you thought attorneys were above the (antitrust) law…?

Namibian Competition Watchdog Probes Alleged Collusion Between Law Firm and Bank

Namibia’s Competition Commission (the “NaCC”) has begun a Section 33 investigation into the alleged exclusive-dealing arrangement in relation to property conveyancing between Bank Windhoek and the domestic law firm of Dr Weder, Kauta and Hoveka, which has offices in 4 cities and touts itself as being “widely respected and recognised for its professionalism and excellence in service provision.”

The purported deal requires those applying for a loan from Bank Windhoek to use the law firm’s conveyancing services, thereby allegedly excluding other attorneys, according to the NaCC’s formal statement announcing the investigation, which resulted from an apparent private complaint brought to the NaCC: “The agreement and its maintained exclusivity is said to limit competition and forecloses other independent service providers in the relevant market, which is provisionally defined as the provision of conveyancing services to Bank Windhoek-financed property transactions,” in violation of section 23 of the Namibian Competition Act. It is reported that the law firm has denied knowledge of the existence of any such agreement with the banking institution and has sought a copy of the document.