Consumers have the right to legal assistance

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The Bulletin, Secunda, Consumer court
The team responsible for the cases in the Secunda Consumer Court. In front are Velaphi Msibi and former judge Josia Mathebula. At the back are Stella Mnisi (clerk of the court), Thulani Kgomo, Gloria Shiba, Nation Nkosi (Consumer Protector), Nongoloza Masina (interpreter) Dominic Matsime.

A Consumer Court is now open at the Secunda Magistrate’s Court.
Similar courts are already fully operational at the Magistrate’s Courts in Evander and Bethal.
Retired Judge, Josia Mathebula, is presiding over the cases brought to this court.
He is assisted by a legal panel comprising of local legal practitioners Thulani Kgomo and Velaphi Msibi.
According to Nation Nkosi, Consumer Protector, the Department of Economic Development and Tourism in Mpumalanga has formed these Consumer Courts to offer the consumer the chance to have proper legal representation and to be heard.
Many South Africans daily face consumer-related problems.
These problems range from bad service, poor quality products and misrepresentation, which results in service providers not delivering what they promised to deliver.
As a result, consumers lose millions of Rands every year.
What many consumers are not aware of is that they have the right to redress to many of these problems because they have certain consumer rights.
These rights are enshrined in the Consumer Protection Act that regulates issues such as disclosure, product liability and certain marketing practices.
The government has set up Provincial Consumer Affairs Offices in all nine provinces to provide consumers with protection, information and advice.
These Provincial Consumer Affairs Offices are tasked with establishing Provincial Consumer Courts to adjudicate and resolve all consumer complaints of unfair business practice free of charge. The Consumer Protector who resides within the Office of Consumer Affairs investigates cases of alleged unfair business practices and prosecutes unscrupulous service providers on behalf of consumers.
Decisions taken by members of the Consumer Courts are of a binding nature.
You as a consumer can approach any of these offices to intervene in disputes you may have regarding contracts, quality of products or services.
The Consumer Affairs Office refers all unresolved matters to the Consumer Affairs Court for adjudication.
Categories of complaints generally include:
• Second-hand motor vehicles; • Hire-purchase agreements; • Medical aid; • Cell phones; • Housing; • Telkom and Eskom; • TV licences; • Direct selling; • Fitness centres; • Furniture industries; • product quality; • Transport contracts; • Timeshare.
According to Nation Nkosi, this court has for instance, recently ruled over a case where a Ford Kuga burned out, and presently a new case has been opened against the Govan Mbeki Municipality regarding consumer accounts.
Consumers can contact the Provincial Consumer Affairs Offices in Nelspruit on (013) 766 4952 or send an email to Nation Nkosi on consumer@mpg.gov.za or to Stella Mnisi (Clerk of the Court) on stellam@mpg.gov.za.

Eight Basic Consumer Rights in South Africa

1. The right to be heard – A financial services provider (FSP), retailer, supplier or anyone else providing goods or services must listen to consumers when they complain.
2. The right to safety – Consumers must be protected against flaws or hidden dangers in products or services that they buy. They also have the right to physical safety while they are buying.
3. The right to redress – When you are sold an inferior product or service, you have the right to go back to the seller or service provider and demand a replacement or a refund. In some instances, this right is protected by law and consumers can take
their cases to the courts to exercise their right to redress.
4. The right to a healthy environment – Consumers have the right to a physical environment that will enhance the quality of life.
5. The right to be informed – Consumers have the right to be given all the information
they require about a product or service. For example, they have the right to request a list of ingredients that go into making a product that is being sold,detailed information of a contract that they might sign, etc.
6. The right to choose – Consumers must insist on a variety of products and goods to choose from based on personal taste, quality or price. Competition in the market
allows you to buy what suits your circumstances.
7. The right to consumer education – Consumers have the right to demand education
in consumer matters. Both the State and private sector have a role to play in this.
8. The right to satisfaction of basic needs – Consumers have the right to basic goods
and services which guarantee survival. This includes adequate food, clothing, shelter, health care, education and sanitation.

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