Understanding Business Rescue in South Africa: A Comprehensive Guide

By: Kasper Brits – Brits Law Inc.

Published Monday, 22 April 2024


In South Africa, business rescue has emerged as a critical legal mechanism to rehabilitate financially distressed companies while preserving value and protecting stakeholders’ interests. This article aims to provide a comprehensive overview of business rescue, including its definition, initiation process, duration, and procedural intricacies.

What is Business Rescue?

Business rescue is a statutory process under Chapter 6 of the Companies Act 71 of 2008, aimed at rehabilitating financially distressed companies to prevent liquidation and promote their continued existence and sustainability. It provides a legal framework for the company to restructure its affairs, operations, debts, and other obligations under the supervision of a business rescue practitioner (BRP).

Initiating Business Rescue:

Business rescue proceedings is usually initiated voluntarily by the company’s board of directors or shareholders. It can also be instituted involuntarily by affected parties such as creditors, employees, or trade unions. The decision to commence business rescue must be supported by a resolution adopted by the company’s board of directors or, in the case of involuntary proceedings, by an application to the court.

Voluntary Initiation:

The board of directors resolves that the company is financially distressed and reasonably unlikely to pay its debts when due. A resolution is passed to place the company under business rescue, and a notice is filed with the Companies and Intellectual Property Commission (CIPC). A qualified and experienced business rescue practitioner (BRP) is appointed to oversee the process.

Involuntary Initiation:

Affected parties file an application with the court, supported by evidence demonstrating the company’s financial distress. The court considers the application and may grant a business rescue order if satisfied that the company meets the criteria for business rescue.

Duration of Business Rescue:

The duration of business rescue can vary depending on the complexity of the company’s financial situation, the effectiveness of the restructuring efforts, and other factors. However, the Companies Act provides specific timelines to ensure expediency in the process:

  • The initial business rescue plan must be published within 25 business days of the BRP’s appointment.
  • The business rescue proceedings must be completed within three months, with the possibility of extensions approved by affected parties or the court.
  • If the business rescue plan is approved, the company continues under business rescue until the plan is fully implemented, or until it is terminated or converted into liquidation proceedings.


The BRP conducts a comprehensive assessment of the company’s financial affairs, operations, and viability. A business rescue plan is formulated, outlining strategies for restructuring the company’s debts, operations, and assets to achieve solvency and sustainability. The BRP engages with affected stakeholders, including creditors, employees, shareholders, and trade unions, to solicit input and negotiate terms of the business rescue plan. Creditors’ meetings are convened to vote on the proposed plan, with approval required from the majority of creditors by value and number.

If the business rescue plan proposed by the business rescue practitioner (BRP) is not agreed to by a majority of the creditors, it can lead to several potential outcomes depending on the specific circumstances of the case and the provisions of the Companies Act 71 of 2008. Here are some possible scenarios:

In some cases, if the initial business rescue plan does not receive the required majority approval from the creditors, the BRP may engage in further negotiations with the stakeholders to address their concerns and revise the plan accordingly. The BRP may seek to amend certain terms, provide additional information, or offer alternative proposals to gain support for the plan.

The Companies Act allows for extensions of the business rescue proceedings beyond the initial three-month period if necessary to facilitate the approval of a viable business rescue plan. The BRP may apply to the court or seek consent from the affected parties to extend the timeline for the development and approval of the plan.

If it becomes evident that a viable business rescue plan cannot be approved or implemented, the business rescue proceedings may be terminated. The termination of business rescue effectively ends the restructuring efforts and may result in the company being placed under liquidation proceedings, where its assets are realised and distributed among the creditors according to the liquidation hierarchy.

In cases where the business rescue plan is rejected or the business rescue process fails to achieve its objectives, the court may order the conversion of the business rescue proceedings into liquidation proceedings. This typically occurs when there is no reasonable prospect of rescuing the company as a going concern and liquidation is deemed to be in the best interests of the creditors and stakeholders. Alternatively, if the company’s directors or shareholders determine that the business rescue efforts are not feasible or desirable, they may opt to voluntarily wind up the company and initiate liquidation proceedings. This decision may be made if the company’s financial position deteriorates further or if there is a lack of consensus among the stakeholders regarding the way forward.

Implementation and Monitoring:

Upon approval of the business rescue plan, the BRP oversees its implementation, including restructuring debt, renegotiating contracts, and implementing operational changes. The BRP monitors the company’s progress, reports to stakeholders, and makes necessary adjustments to ensure compliance with the plan and statutory obligations.

The Moratorium:

The moratorium refers to a temporary suspension or prohibition on certain legal actions such as initiating or proceeding with court summons or proceedings, against the financially distressed company. The moratorium is intended to provide the company with breathing room and protection from creditors legal actions while it undergoes the business rescue process. 

The primary purpose of the moratorium is to afford the company under business rescue protection from legal actions that could undermine or disrupt the restructuring efforts. It aims to create a conducive environment for the business rescue practitioner (BRP) to formulate and implement a viable rescue plan without undue pressure or interference from creditors, shareholders, or other parties.

The moratorium typically encompasses a broad range of legal actions and proceedings, including but not limited to:

  • Legal proceedings for the enforcement of claims or judgments against the company, such as debt recovery actions, foreclosure proceedings, or liquidation applications.
  • Execution or attachment of the company’s assets by creditors to satisfy their claims or obligations.
  • Termination or cancellation of contracts, leases, or agreements entered into by the company, unless with the consent of the BRP or approval of the court.
  • Any act to enforce or realise security over the company’s assets, including repossession or sale of secured assets.

The moratorium takes effect upon the commencement of the business rescue proceedings and remains in force throughout the duration of the business rescue process, subject to certain exceptions and limitations. It provides immediate relief to the company by halting pending legal actions and preventing new actions from being initiated against the company without the consent of the BRP or approval of the court.

Exceptions and Limitations: While the moratorium provides broad protection to the company, certain exceptions and limitations may apply:

Certain types of legal actions or proceedings may be exempted from the moratorium if they are deemed essential for the effective administration of justice or for the protection of specific rights or interests. The moratorium does not suspend or invalidate pre-existing contractual obligations or liabilities incurred by the company prior to the commencement of the business rescue proceedings. Creditors may seek relief from the moratorium under exceptional circumstances, such as where their rights are unfairly prejudiced or where there is evidence of abuse or misconduct by the company or the BRP. The moratorium provides the company with a period of stability and protection to facilitate the development and implementation of a business rescue plan. It allows the BRP to assess the company’s financial position, negotiate with creditors, restructure debts, and explore restructuring options without the threat of immediate legal action. Additionally, the moratorium may encourage creditors to cooperate with the business rescue process and participate in the formulation of a mutually acceptable rescue plan. Overall, the moratorium plays a crucial role in safeguarding the interests of the financially distressed company and its stakeholders during the business rescue process.

The Payment Waterfall:

The payment waterfall refers to the priority order in which the proceeds from the realisation of assets or the restructuring of debts after initiation of the business rescue proceedings are distributed among the various creditors and stakeholders of the financially distressed company. The payment waterfall is outlined in Section 141 of the Companies Act 71 of 2008 and plays a crucial role in determining the allocation of funds to different classes of creditors and stakeholders.
Here’s a breakdown of the typical payment waterfall:

Costs of Business Rescue: The first priority in the payment waterfall is to cover the costs and expenses directly associated with the business rescue process. This includes the fees and expenses incurred by the business rescue practitioner (BRP), legal fees, administrative costs, and any other expenses necessary for the successful execution of the business rescue proceedings.

Post-Commencement Finance: If the company obtains financing or credit facilities during the business rescue process to fund its operations or restructuring efforts, the repayment of these post-commencement finance obligations typically takes precedence over other claims. This provision incentivizes creditors to provide financing to support the company’s rehabilitation efforts.

Employee Claims: Employees are afforded special protection under the payment waterfall. They are entitled to receive certain outstanding employment-related claims, such as unpaid wages, salaries, leave pay, and retrenchment benefits, up to a specified limit. These claims rank ahead of most other unsecured creditors but are subordinate to the claims of secured creditors.

Preferent Creditors: Certain creditors are classified as preferent creditors and are entitled to preferential treatment in the payment waterfall. Preferent creditors typically include government authorities and regulatory bodies, such as the South African Revenue Service (SARS), which may have claims for outstanding taxes, VAT, or other statutory obligations.

Secured Creditors: Secured creditors hold security or collateral over specific assets of the company, such as property, equipment, or inventory. In the payment waterfall, secured creditors are entitled to receive proceeds from the realisation of their collateral before other creditors are paid. The extent of their claims depends on the value of the secured assets and any applicable security agreements.

Unsecured Creditors: Unsecured creditors are those without any specific security or priority claim over the company’s assets. They rank lower in the payment waterfall and are entitled to receive distributions only after the claims of secured creditors, employees, and preferent creditors have been satisfied. Unsecured creditors may include trade creditors, suppliers, service providers, and other general creditors.

Shareholders: Shareholders are the owners of the company and hold equity interests in the business. In the event of liquidation or winding-up proceedings following unsuccessful business rescue attempts, shareholders typically rank last in the payment waterfall and may only receive distributions after all other creditor claims have been settled. In many cases, shareholders may not receive any distributions if the company’s assets are insufficient to cover its liabilities.

It’s important to note that the specific order and priority of claims in the payment waterfall may vary depending on the circumstances of each case, the terms of any financing or security agreements, and the provisions of the business rescue plan as voted for and approved in a creditors meeting. Additionally, the ultimate distribution of proceeds to creditors and stakeholders is subject to the discretion of the business rescue practitioner and oversight by the relevant stakeholders and the court.

In Conclusion:

Business rescue in South Africa provides a vital lifeline for financially distressed companies, offering an alternative to liquidation and a chance for rehabilitation and recovery. The process is very useful and attractive to a company that is financially distressed at one instance and in danger of looming liquidation or litigation for outstanding debts while at the same time having good prospects in future to earn enough income to settle such debts. The process is in many ways similar to debt counselling proceedings which is the process used for an individual who is financially distressed rather than a company. 

The business rescue process is however abused in some cases and there have been many instances in court where such abuse will not be tolerated. If you need to place your company under business rescue or need to address a company under business rescue that abuses the process, contact Brits Law for assistance.