In the public interest: An account of the South African competition policy five years on

In terms of the Chicago school of thought, competition policy is intended exclusively to preserve consumer welfare, defined solely in terms of economic efficiency. Competition laws in some jurisdictions are premised on this notion. Not so in South Africa, where instead, the competition laws have a myriad of objectives. These can be classified broadly as promoting either ‘efficiency’ or some ‘public interest’ goal.

Thus, in implementing the Act, competition authorities in South Africa have to take cognizance not only of efficiency goals but of public interest objectives as well. Often there is a trade off between efficiency and public interest goals, necessitating a balancing act by the authorities.

This paper gives an account of the challenges faced and approaches taken by the South African competition authorities’ in implementing the public interest objective of the Competition Act during the first five years of their existence. It will analyse whether this double-pronged approach to competition policy has stymied the effectiveness of the authorities.