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Consumer Protection

It is difficult to imagine a connection between sparkling mineral water and the most expensive car ever purchased at an auction, but there is. On 14 August 2014, a 1962 Ferrari 250 GTO sold for a record price of US$34 650 000 – in today’s South African terms, about R520 million. Bonham’s were selling the vehicle out of the deceased estate of Fabrizio Violati,1 whose passion for Ferrari cars was enabled due to the wealth his family derived from their successful mineral water business. No doubt there was some nail-biting anxiety at the auction.

Back home, the Consumer Protection Act 20082 contains many provisions which are designed to protect consumers – even from themselves at auctions! — against unfair marketing and business practices, and establish a forum for redress in respect of consumer grievances. This is the Consumer Commission.3 What happens when a complaint is lodged is that investigators research the issue. If they consider the complaint to have substance, they will refer it to the Consumer Tribunal which has powers of enquiry, to hold hearings and issue orders.

In short, the Consumer Protection Act 2008 incorporates comprehensive provisions stipulating what suppliers of services and goods may not do, and it also creates extensive rights of consumers.

However, many of the prohibitions are not criminalised; the following are the criminal offences stipulated by the Consumer Protection Act.

  1. No one is allowed, without authority, to alter, obscure, falsify, remove or omit:4

    • any price which is published or displayed in connection with goods or services;
    • any labelling;
    • any description about the quantity, weight, ingredients, or material of goods;
    • any description about the place or method of manufacture; or
    • the name of the manufacturer.
  2. It is a crime to:
    • contravene or fail to comply with an order of the National Consumer Tribunal;5
    • do anything to improperly influence the Tribunal or a regulator concerning any matter connected with an investigation into any possible contraventions of the Consumer Protection Act;6
    • anticipate any findings of the Tribunal or a regulator concerning an investigation in a way that is calculated to influence the proceedings or findings;7
    • do anything in connection with such an investigation which is equivalent to contempt of court;8
    • knowingly provide false information to a regulator;9
    • defame the Tribunal, or a member the Tribunal in his official capacity;10
    • interrupt or misbehave during the proceedings of a hearing of the Tribunal;11
    • act contrary to a warrant to enter and search;12 or
    • to enter or search premises, or attach or remove any article or document without a warrant issued by the High Court or a magistrate.13
  3. It is an offence to disclose any personal or confidential information concerning the affairs of any person which is obtained whilst carrying out any function; or as a result of initiating a complaint or participating in any proceedings, in terms of the Consumer Protection Act.14

  4. It is also a crime to:
    • fail to act in accordance with a notice issued by the National Consumer Commission concerning prohibited conduct;15
    • to obstruct or unduly influence any person performing a duty in terms of the Consumer Protection Act;16
    • fail to comply with a subpoena to appear before, or produce documents to the Commission;17
    • refuse to be sworn in or make an affirmation;18
    • fail to answer any question fully and to the best of one’s ability;19 or
    • knowingly give false evidence.20
  1. He had purchased the Ferrari in 1965 for US$4 000. 

  2. As amended; the latest amendment was effected by Act 19 of 2014. 

  3. Its National office is at Berkely Office Park, 8 Bauhinia Road, Technopark, Centurion (tel: 012 761 3000). 

  4. Section 110. 

  5. Section 109(1). 

  6. Section 109(2)(a). 

  7. Section 109(2)(b). 

  8. Section 109(2)(c). 

  9. Section 109(2)(d). 

  10. Section 109(2)(e). 

  11. Section 109(2)(f). 

  12. Section 109(2)(g). 

  13. Section 109(2)(h) read with Section 103. 

  14. Section 107(1). 

  15. Section 100(1) read with Section 100(6)(b) and Section 110(2). 

  16. Section 108(1). 

  17. Section 108(2)(a) and (b)(ii). 

  18. Section 108(2)(b)(i). 

  19. Section 108(3)(a). 

  20. Section 108(3)(b).