Gauteng shines the light on rights of consumers

Thuli Zungu Consumer Line
Consumer court members Johannes Malesela Phukubje, Suping Paul Hlahane, advocate Galetlane Julian Rasethaba, Maria Aletta Du Plessis, head of the economic development department Pumla Ncapayi, Zandile Mpungose, Philippa Oppermann and advocate Jame Chiumya. /SUPPLIED
Consumer court members Johannes Malesela Phukubje, Suping Paul Hlahane, advocate Galetlane Julian Rasethaba, Maria Aletta Du Plessis, head of the economic development department Pumla Ncapayi, Zandile Mpungose, Philippa Oppermann and advocate Jame Chiumya. /SUPPLIED

We all have rights, whether in dealing with a money-hungry mechanic, a smooth-talking scammer or a heartless and unregistered money lender who has no regard for laws that protect consumers.

We also have rights when banking groups make mistakes; rights when we buy defective goods; and when the government tries to bully us.

However, many of us don't even know that they don't have to be "blackmailed" into buying mortgage insurance from a bank when negotiating a bond for a new home.

And, unfortunately, the difference between having rights and actually knowing what those rights are can leave most consumers unprepared for the often dishonest world, said Milly Viljoen of the Gauteng office of consumer affairs.

It is for this reason that consumers get protection against unscrupulous dealers and unfair business practices.

A week ago, when nine new members were sworn in for a new three-year term in the consumer court, Gauteng was praised for its role in making the province the benchmark in the fight for the promotion of consumer rights.

Viljoen said the previous members had served from 2015 until last year.

Pumla Ncapayi, head of the provincial economic development department, showered praise on the consumer court for its effectiveness.

"The court has proven to be most efficient in addressing consumer complaints in Gauteng, and has heard more than 374 sittings since its inception," Ncapayi said.

She further praised the court for having played a significant role in making the province the benchmark in the fight for the protection of consumer rights.

Viljoen said the process to select the people to serve in this court hit the home stretch on February 1 when Gauteng economic development MEC Lebogang Maile appointed five members and four alternate members for a three-year term in office.

They represent a cross-section of the legal and regulatory environment with a focus on consumer rights' issues.

"Some members have previously served, while some of the members are new to the consumer court," Viljoen said. 

The primary function of the court, established in terms of the Consumer Affairs Act No7 of 1996, is to receive, hear and adjudicate over disputes arising between consumers and businesses.

If the Gauteng office of consumer affairs is unable to settle a matter by conciliation, it then refers the matter to the consumer affairs court for a hearing.

The consumer is often represented by the consumer protector and the respondent can choose to either represent themselves or by an attorney.

If the office of consumer affairs settles the matter during the conciliation process and the parties enter into a settlement arrangement, the office will then have that settlement arrangement confirmed by the consumer court.

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