The South African economy, like its people, is filled with beautiful diversity and unquenched energy. Holding on to the hope of a better tomorrow, it refuses to stay down when the going gets tough. In a resource-rich rainbow nation, South Africans are a driven, tenacious and innovative bunch; and this clearly filters into how we spend and save money, too.
South Africans are unashamedly bombarded with confusing messages about financial success. The subtle influences of perceived prosperity, celebrity endorsements, savvy marketing campaigns and appealing quick-fixes stream into our collective consciousness. As products of a relentless media, competitive profiteers and trendy societal norms that change with the wind, both impressionable and educated citizens alike fall prey to unsavory schemes, sticky liability traps and poor financial decisions.
How do we sift through the rubbish and find a lasting treasure? For example, can South Africans legitimately make money online? (By the way, you can. Here are 13 ways to do it the right way). Do we have any power or influence over the myriad of choices and demands placed on us as South African consumers and economic citizens? The short answer is yes.
Good news for consumers arrived in a piece of legislation implemented in 2009. The South African Consumer Protection Act [no.68 of 2008] (CPA), together with the National Credit Act of South Africa [no.34 of 2005] (NCA), quickly became a cornerstone of consumer education and empowerment. In line with the country’s Bill of Rights, it carefully outlines nine basic consumer rights regarding products, purchases, marketing, suppliers, information and ethics in consumer relations.
Here are five useful tips about how the Consumer Protection Act [no.68 of 2008] protects and empower you as a South African consumer:
1. Impulse Purchasing
We all make impulsive purchasing decisions. Think about the checkout aisle filled with last-minute items. A necessary obstacle to pass through on the way to the tills, slow queues and hunger pangs test the limits of endurance, as eyes fall on abundant temptations. Like the gauntlet run of a Warrior Race, consumers dodge products we don’t need or want to try save money for monthly bills not yet received. Sometimes we fail.
TIP 1: Section 6.3.3. of the CPA allows cancellation of a transaction or agreement which resulted from direct marketing within 5 business days (from the conclusion of agreement or delivery of goods). You need not provide a reason, even if the goods are not defective. The supplier must reimburse you within 15 business days.
Unwanted and unsolicited offers also fall under the CPA’s scope, like a pesky telemarketing call as you are about to tuck into your sandwich. Remember, you have the right to refuse this type of unsolicited direct marketing. Suppliers are required to be responsible, fair, honest and transparent at all times. Honest dealing encompasses what is on offer, terms and conditions, financial implications, pricing and cancellation options.
TIP 2: In all aspects of the transaction, you have the right to fairness, justice and honesty on the part of the supplier. This is extends to goods and services, contractual agreements, terms and conditions and marketing representation.
Ordinary citizens have no time for complicated terms and conditions. The CPA provides a platform where product and services information is plain and understandable, pricing is obvious and labelling is clear.
TIP 2: Consumers have the right to know what they are buying, what it contains, exactly how much it costs and the condition of the product (for example, if the current supplier has amended the product in any way). The law prohibits misleading or fraudulent information and keeps us in control of how we spend money.
According to the CPA, a high quality product is the minimum requirement. Poor quality or defective products are therefore an unacceptable occurrence in the consumer’s world. Why should we accept a poor quality product after all?
The 2013 Consumer Goods and Services Ombudsman, Adv. Neville Melville, explained how the CPA has changed the way we think about continued quality of goods and services. He outlined that under the guidelines of the CPA, all goods sold must be in perfect condition, suitable for the use intended, of a good quality, in working order and durable for a reasonable amount of time (Fin24, 2013).
TIP 4: If a product fails to meet the required conditions for quality, durability and use within a period of six months, you are entitled to return it for repair, replacement or refund (consumer’s choice). Note: This applies where no specific conditions were stated by the supplier.
The CPA provides protection from dishonest and unethical practices in all aspects of a consumer-supplier relationship. It empowers the consumer with information and expectations. This extends to credit provisions, for example, in line with the National Credit Act. Suppliers may not provide unjust or unfair credit conditions (think loan sharks), or trap you into a deal through unsavoury means or coercion.
TIP 5: Know your consumer rights and the ethical responsibilities of the suppliers you use. If you are overextended on your credit score, for example, you should not be receiving unsolicited offers of store credit cards from retailers. Are you being offered a ridiculously high interest rate on a loan or credit card you can’t afford to take? How could you make the most of a short term loan instead?
Surprisingly, ordinary South Africans remain largely unaware of the contents of the Consumer Protection Act. By remaining ignorant, we choose not to exercise our legal rights as valued consumers in an increasingly volatile economy. Information, however, is power in a world of missed connections.
As a South African consumer and economic citizen, you have the means to become a powerful force for good. Financial success is not reserved for the rich or famous. Sound financial decisions, informed purchasing decisions, fair credit options and ethical marketing are all within the scope of your influence. When each of us enforces the rights we own as educated consumers, the possibilities are endless and everyone wins, including the economy.