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How is a Company Legally Declared Insolvent in South Africa?


In South Africa, the legal declaration of a company's insolvency is a critical process governed by specific laws and procedures designed to protect the interests of creditors, employees, and other stakeholders. Understanding these procedures is essential for business owners, creditors, and legal professionals.

The Insolvency Act and the Companies Act

The process is primarily governed by the Insolvency Act, No. 24 of 1936, and the Companies Act, No. 71 of 2008. The Insolvency Act deals with the sequestration (bankruptcy) of individuals and partnerships, while the Companies Act provides the framework for corporate entities.

Criteria for Insolvency

A company is considered insolvent under South African law when it is unable to pay its debts as they come due in the normal course of business. This is assessed either through the 'cash flow' test, where a company fails to meet its obligations, or the 'balance sheet' test, where the company's liabilities exceed its assets.

The Process of Declaring Insolvency

  1. Voluntary Surrender: The board of directors may voluntarily decide to wind up the company if they believe the company is financially distressed. They must pass a resolution and file it with the Companies and Intellectual Property Commission (CIPC).

  2. Compulsory Sequestration: Creditors may apply to a court for the compulsory sequestration of a company if they can prove that the company is unable to pay its debts. This involves submitting a petition to a High Court detailing the company's financial state and the outstanding debts.

  3. Court Hearing: The court will consider the petition and hear any objections from the company or other interested parties. If the court finds the company insolvent, it will issue a sequestration order.

  4. Appointment of a Liquidator: Once the company is declared insolvent, a liquidator is appointed. The liquidator's role is to wind up the company’s affairs, sell its assets, and distribute the proceeds among the creditors.

  5. Distribution of Assets: The liquidator will pay out the proceeds from the sale of assets according to the legal order of priority. Secured creditors are typically paid first, followed by preferential creditors (such as employees), and then unsecured creditors.

Leoni Naude Inc Attorneys
Leoni Naude Inc


The declaration of insolvency is a significant legal process that impacts all involved parties. For companies facing financial difficulties, it is advisable to consult with legal and financial experts to explore all available options before proceeding with insolvency.


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