"My business entered into an agreement some time ago to have certain goods manufactured for us. Unfortunately, the agreement was drawn up in haste, and now that we want to look at other manufacturers, we have realised it does not have a fixed contract period or cancellation clause. Are we now stuck with this manufacturer till the end of time?"
To answer your question, it is useful to refer to the matter of Plaaskem (Pty) Ltd v Nippon Africa Chemicals (Pty) Ltd
where the parties concluded an agreement which was silent as to its duration (i.e. a contract in perpetuity or of unspecified duration).
In the case, after one of the parties gave notice to cancel the agreement, the parties approached the High Court to determine whether the agreement had a tacit, alternatively implied term that the agreement was terminable on reasonable notice to the other party, alternatively whether the agreement, properly construed, was terminable on reasonable notice. The High Court found that there was no tacit or implied or other clause in the contract, to the effect that the contract may be cancelled and held that the notice of cancellation of the agreement was invalid and of no effect.
On appeal, the Supreme Court of Appeal (SCA) had to decide whether the contract between the parties contained a tacit term to the effect that the contract was terminable by either party on reasonable notice. The SCA considered four factors when deciding whether or not such a tacit term can be included, namely -
- the language used by the parties (i.e. the express terms of the contract);
- the intention of the parties;
- the nature of the relationship between the parties; and
- the surrounding circumstances when the agreement was entered into.
In this specific case, the SCA found that it is necessary that a tacit term be imported, allowing termination on reasonable notice by either party. The court however warned that a tacit term cannot be imported into an agreement where it will be contradicted by an express term. Therefore, for a tacit term to be included it must be capable of a clear formulation even though the formulation does not have to be concise.
In your situation it would be advisable to have your attorney review your contract to determine whether there are any grounds for cancellation or termination of the agreement or whether there are merits in approaching the court to have the agreement cancelled.