Recently the first ever property transfer transaction was registered in a deeds office in South Africa where the seller’s Power of Attorney to Pass Transfer was signed with an advanced electronic signature (AES).
What is an AES? It is a special ‘electronic’ signature (a scanned image of a handwritten signature, or ‘digital’ signature) which, in certain instances, may replace the traditional pen and ink manner to sign documents. In order to use such a signature on a document, one first has to have the AES accredited with an accreditation authority in South Africa.
Where a law specifically requires signature before a document will be considered legally valid, but does not specify that the signature must be in writing, the Electronic Communications and Transactions Act (ECTA) allows that an AES may be used. On the other hand, where a law requires a written signature, an AES will not suffice (eg, the assignment of copyright in terms of the Copyright Act, which that Act requires to be in writing).
Remember that agreements concluded in terms of the Alienation of Land Act are specifically excluded from ECTA and must therefore still be concluded by parties appending their written signatures thereto.