The Streetwise Consumer – The official question-and-answer guide to consumer rights in South Africa

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Background
IT WAS Doris Mgijima’s* worst nightmare.

Just as she was about to leave a clothing factory shop in an industrial complex near Cape Town, a security guard pounced.

“Come with me, please,” he commanded the 44-year-old primary school teacher as he gripped her by the shoulder.

“The funny thing is he’d been hovering around me the minute I walked into the shop,” said Mrs Mgijima. “But I hadn’t given him a second thought.”

“I was taken into a room in which there was just a table and a chair. A female security guard took my bag and, without saying a word, threw its contents on the table.

“Then she told me to strip. I protested. She asked me if I wanted to spend the weekend in jail.
After she’d found nothing, she told me I could leave. Just like that. No apology. Nothing.

The owner of the shop said later that shoplifting was a major problem.

That was all. Again, there was no apology for the treatment meted out to Mrs Mgijima.

The sad thing is that Mrs Mgijima’s story was not an isolated incident involving and overzealous security guard and an insensitive shop-owner. Every day tens of thousands of South Africans have their rights as consumers, citizens and, indeed, as human beings trampled on by a wide range of businesses – or by organizations offering various types of services.

And yet, all of us have certain rights whenever we purchase a product – or pay for a particular service. Sadly, mainly through ignorance, the vast majority of us allow these rights to be stolen from us.

THE STREETWISE CONSUMER will emphasize the power that consumers have – and, together with the province’s Consumer Affairs Department, help them reclaim ownership of this power….

* Not her real name.

OUR PROPOSAL
Sometimes, a government’s plans aimed at benefiting the vast majority of its constituents can become bogged down by a combination of ignorance, misconception and mean-spiritedness.

And it needn’t be for lack of trying.

Take the case of consumer protection in South Africa….

The government is strongly of the opinion – and most people will concur – that all consumers, but especially the more vulnerable members of our society, need to be protected.

There are so many people that we need to be wary of – people who may relieve us of our hard-earned cash, and even put us in physical danger, if we are not careful and if we do not know how to exercise our rights.

While the advent of provincial Consumer Affairs Departments is a welcome, powerful ally for the man and woman in the street, Dougie Oakes Media strongly believes that far too many consumers remain ignorant of their rights – and their obligations.

The availability of advice centres and watchdog bodies mean very little if the people they are supposed to help are not aware that they can be helped. It is sad but true – far too many South Africans have a poorly developed culture of standing up for their consumer rights.

The Streetwise Consumer
To help create a new level of awareness around issues of consumer protection – and to begin to cultivate a dynamic new culture of consumerism, Dougie Oakes Media proposes producing a book entitled THE STREETWISE CONSUMER – the official question-and-answer guide to consumer rights in South Africa.

We envisage a soft-cover, easy-to-carry publication consisting of a minimum of 160 pages – or a maximum of 192 pages.
And because we see it as an educational tool – and because we wholeheartedly support the use of mother tongue communication in matters revolving around education – we strongly support the publication of this book in as many of the official languages as possible.

Nuts and bolts
THE STREETWISE CONSUMER will be compiled by a team of professional writers, graphic designers and consulting editors, who, naturally, will be chosen for their expert knowledge of the law on consumer-related matters.

The book will be edited by Dougie Oakes, who in his 15-years’ experience as an editor – and editor-in-chief – of Reader’s Digest General books, worked on a number of publications requiring a “plain-language” approach.

One of these, You and Your Rights, sold more than 100 000 copies.

As stated in the title, the book will take a question-and-answer approach. The questions will be compiled from the files of the provincial Consumer Affairs Departments – and from questions suggested by the various legal experts.

The answers will be short, to the point and written in a style that everyone will understand and feel comfortable with. The book itself will be divided into a number of sections. For example, among the sections we envisage are:

  • Buying on credit
  • Moneylenders
  • Banks
  • Funeral policies and other insurance matters
  • Faulty goods
  • Shoddy service
  • Contracts
  • Motoring, Travel and Transport
  • At schools
  • Bill of Rights

Interspersed among the questions and answers will be a number of warning boxes, quick tips and useful names, numbers and addresses of people and organizations offering consumer advice and help.

We envisage the book being printed in two colours – black text, with the headings in a second colour.

Managing the project
Time, they say, is money – so this project will be completed quickly and efficiently.
The publishing plan for the book will consist of a number of steps:

  1. The compilation of a headword list of questions.
  2. Sidebar ideas that will enhance understanding of the answers to the questions.
  3. A list of diagrams and graphs that will do likewise.
  4. A choice of typeface that young as well as old people will find easy to read.
  5. The taking of a word count to find out the volume of type that can be carried on a page. In this way. This will make is possible to estimate the number of pages that the book will make.
  6. An agreement on how long it would take to produce the book.
  7. The drawing up of a project schedule to make sure that the book is produced on time.
  8. The drawing up of a budget.
  9. The keeping of a record of expenditure to make sure that the book is produced within budget.

Corporate sales and advertising
We believe that the costs of the publication can be covered by support from private and public sector sponsors, and from advertising sales.

This is how we see it working:

  • Dougie Oakes Media will take responsibility for the facilitation of agreements with corporate sponsors in South Africa. For example, an arrangement with a large supermarket could make it possible for The Streetwise Consumer to be sold for R10 at pay-points.
  • The SABC, newspaper groups and large South African corporations such as Telkom, the Post Office, Old Mutual, Sanlam, and Absa Bank, to name a few, could be brought on board as official sponsors. In terms of such an arrangement, these companies could take, say, a total of 100000 to give to their clients.
  • Dougie Oakes Media undertakes to facilitate these arrangements, together with the Department of Trade and Industry and consumer protection agencies and organisations in South Africa.
  • Dougie Oakes Media will manage advertising sales. To this end, we will commission a team of advertising consultants to sell advertising. This process will revolve around an advertising sales strategy aimed at achieving clearly defined advertising sales targets. Advertising sales staff will be paid on commission in terms of normal industry standards.

Start-up and Infrastructure costs
We suggest that the start-up and basic infrastructure costs be carried by an initial up front advertising sales commitment from the Department of Trade and Industry, corporate sponsors and consumer protection agencies in South Africa. In terms of this commitment, each entity would make available an amount of R30 000.00 in lieu of payment for an advertisement. We believe that the consumer protection agencies will recover the bulk, if not all of their costs, through the sale of the publication. Sales could also be used as a vehicle for creating jobs for people who are prepared to sell the publication on a commission basis.

Staffing requirements
The Streetwise Consumer guide will be compiled by a team of experts comprising:

  • A Managing Editor
  • An Editor
  • Two writers
  • A researcher
  • An expert consultant (or consultants, depending on the nature of advice sought)
  • A picture researcher
  • A designer
  • A reader
  • The services of translators and anyone else who may be necessary to ensure that the finished product is of the highest quality

Require our services? Click here to contact Dougie Oakes Communications today.