Posted: March 15, 2021
The Commissioner for the National Consumer Commission (NCC), Ms. Thezi Mabuza
The MEC for Economic, Small Business Development and Environmental Affairs, Mr. Makalo Mohale.
The CEO of National Regulator for Compulsory Specifications (NRCS), Mr Edward Mamadise.
The CEO of Independent Communications Authority (ICASA), Mr. Willington Ngwepe.
The CEO of National Energy Regulator of South Africa (NERSA), Christopher Forlee
The CEO of Consumer Goods and Services Ombudsman (CGSO), Ms. Queen Monyai
Motor Industry Ombudsman of South Africa (MIOSA)
The CEO of National Credit Regulator (NCR), Nomsa Matshegare
Financial Sector Conduct Authority (FSCA)
Consumer Protection Forum (CPF)
All the Senior government Officials representing both national and different provincial governments.
Ladies and gentlemen.
It is with great excitement that I join our National Consumer Commission on the occasion of commemorating the World Consumer Rights Day 2021. I am also excited that I can recognize the NCC as a Regulator has extended invitations widely to other Regulators, whose work directly impacts to the consumer integrity of this country in various economic spaces. Your work as Regulators is important in this country because you get involved where consumers are exposed to the vagaries of being short-changed by the very same platforms and service providers that purport to sell to them quality and genuine products.
I am have been informed that the celebration of this World Consumer Rights Day began on Tuesday, whereby it was launched by Free State MEC Mohale. In a sense, this therefore represent a week long commemoration of this important day in our annual calendar. Through the NCC, I also participated in the SABC radio interviews on the same day, to highlight the importance with which all our regulators, and in particular, the National Consumer Commission is playing in our country as a buffer between the consumer and the notorious suppliers in the market.
As DTIC we have a responsibility to elevate and publicize more work that the NCC does. The criticality of your work requires all the kind of support. It is important because the work that the Commission does, to all intent and purposes, is an act of protecting the weak in our society and those unsuspecting and generally with absolute trust to commercial brands. The work of protecting Consumers generally, as all the different Regulators present here today can testify, is an activist work. One has to be driven by a deep sense of social justice and a fighting spirit against any forms of malfeasances directed against the vulnerable, and the unsuspecting consumers. It is these elements in a human being that should be embedded in their DNA to make them good consumer rights activist professional.
It was on this day – 59 years ago – when President John F Kennedy, sent a special message to the US Congress on 15th of March 1962, in which he formally addressed the issue of consumer rights. He was the first prominent leader to do so. The consumer movement first commemorated this date in 1983 and now marks the day annually to mobilize actions on important issues and campaigns.
As this government, we are encouraged by the clear messages from Consumer International that, in response to the COVID-19 pandemic crisis it is calling for all its members in 100 countries for a focus on the protection and empowerment of individuals in the marketplace, based on consumer rights. And it further calls for a coordinated strategies across nations and intergovernmental bodies to build a fair, safe, resilient and sustainable economies through consumer protection. Consumer international further calls governments to support a global coordinated response to the COVID-19 pandemic crisis that protects and respects consumers in both the immediate efforts to halt the spread of the virus and the worst impacts of the economic effects, and in future strategies to rebuild and renew our social, environmental and economic systems.
As government of South Africa, we have been concerned about what is popularly termed as “vaccine nationalism”. We have seen this in European rich countries and
USA. The undermining, if not bypassing of World Health Organization COVEX Facility which was designed to pool together all World resources for bulk buying of vaccine to be distributed in all countries globally, has been a serious disturbance to us. Poor countries are really left to their own devices as pharmaceutical companies scramble for profits even in vaccines that have proven to be poor in their efficacies against new variants. Our President has raised this matter with WHO both as President and as AU chairperson.
I am very proud that in the mist of all the chaos of COVID-19, our National Consumer Commission has not rested in its laurels. It has stepped up its own activism role in fighting against consumer exploitation by retailers who have escalated the prices of COVID-19 immune system essentials like Garlic, Lemon and Ginger. The current intervention is well timely and commendable in favour of the consumers and their rights. The poor working class have been denied these essentials through these obscene price hikes.
Consumer Protection Services were classified as essential services and this required that consumer protection bodies work throughout the hard lockdown (level 5) specifically to see to the implementation of regulation 350 to curb price gouging. Price Gouging is better defined as “an act or instance of charging customers too high a price for goods or services, especially when demand is high and supplies are limited”. Price Gouging gained popularity with the outbreak of the Covid-19 Pandemic, wherein (retailers)suppliers started selling necessities, more particularly Masks and Sanitizers, at high prices. To curb the exorbitant price increases, the Minister promulgated the Consumer and Customer Protection and National Disaster Management Regulations and Directions, issued in terms of Regulation 350 of Government Notice 43116 of 19 March 2020 as prohibited conduct.
Although the regulations were made applicable to the supply of a certain category of goods during the period of the national disaster, they only came into effect on the date of publication of the regulations in the Gazette (19/03/2020).
The Regulations prohibited the supply of goods and services at a price that is unfair, unreasonable and unjust. Prior to the promulgation of the Regulations, the Minister made a Public announcement about price gouging and the intended Regulations. This had a two-way effect:
The suppliers who had increased their prices following the outbreak of the Regulations, reduced their prices on promulgation of the Regulations; and
This meant that those suppliers who reduced their prices just before the Regulations came into effect, could not be prosecuted under the Regulations, regardless of clear price gouging immediately before the Regulations came into effect.
Another critical important area that we must commend the work of the Commission is with regards to the mushrooming of pyramid schemes. I know that FSCA also do a lot of work in this area from the point of view of closing down these pyramid schemes and ensuring prosecutions. The National Lockdown resulted in hundreds of South Africans losing their income or some receiving less than what they normally received. While the country was grappling with the effects of Covid-19 and the National Lockdown, most South Africans took a lot of financial knock and food security was threatened. Unscrupulous people used the Covid-19 disaster to their advantage and preyed on desperate and unsuspecting victims.
During the period of the hard lockdown, social media platforms were and are still flooded with pyramid schemes promising to double people’s money over the shortest period of time. They only sell a fantasy. The idea of getting rich quickly always result in most consumers losing their hard-earned cash. Pursuant to suspicious activities that were picked up by the FIC, complaints posted by consumers, the National Consumer Commission decided to conduct investigations.
One of your mandates as the National Consumer Commission is to ensure that businesses complies with the Consumer Protection Act and its regulations. We have received a briefing that recently you have been doing some commendable work around the imports, looking at labelling requirements. In promoting compliance with the Country of Origin Labelling (COOL), you have embarked on inspections as an enforcement tool to check the levels of compliance and non-compliance. SARS has reported the high levels of non-compliance with the Country of Origins Labelling especially with regards to the clothing, textiles, shoes and leather categories. The
South African Revenue Services (SARS) mandate in this regard is to identify, detect and where there are suspected violations, they escalate the matter to you, as a Regulator, with jurisdiction. A lot of these interventions and arrests were made in Durban and Cape Town Ports.
I am excited that you have taken the issue of consumer right at the centre of the society, although so much work need to be done in punching above your weight. I want to see programmes that go straight to the poor women in villages, and the uneducated in our society. The women who sell their vegetables in taxi and bus ranks but do their bulk buying in wholesales that sell them less than standard, if not poor quality staff for selling, to our people. I am happy that the Commission has started with Umhlobo weNene radio station to buy slots for a dedicated programme on Consumer rights. That’s a good start, but I want to see that programme replicated to Ukhozi fm, Lesedi fm, Ligwalagwala fm, Moghana fm, Inkwenkwezi Fm and other vernacular stations. Once the country is back to normal after COVID-19, I will be inviting the Commission in various outreach programmes to educate our people as part of empowerment.
To that end I am happy that you have decided to take a step further by developing a Consumer Law Module to be launched in University of Fort Hare. We need more law expects in fighting for Consumer rights against big and powerful corporates that are armed with Commercial lawyers, who are always ready to defend them in courts against the vulnerable and weak, thereby getting away with murders.
I therefore wish you success, and for the success of this World Consumer Rights Day of 2021. Let us use this day to reenergize ourselves as Activist committed to the greater cause of defending the weak and the unsuspecting in our society, that’s our inescapable mandate!