Friday 19 September 2008

Which country is this?

Do we sometimes forget that we are an independent nation?

I know that in these days of globalisation no nation is entirely separated from the rest of the world but the world DOES still consist of nations with their own laws and Botswana is one of them.

I also know, we all have to understand, that in economic terms we are a fairly small nation.  We may produce lots of diamonds and have lots of cash in the national bank and we may be a big country geographically but our very small population means we’ll never be a consumer on the same scale as places like South Africa.  Our population doesn’t even match that of a province in South Africa.

Actually that’s not correct.  I always thought that was the case until, as I was writing this article, I actually went and checked.  The 2001 South African census showed the total population of SA as almost 45 million people.  Most provinces have a population between about 3 and 9 million people.  However the Northern Cape has a population of only 822,000, only a half of our population.  Remember that fact, I’ll come back to his later.

This week I saw a leaflet from HomeChoice.  This describes all sorts of bedroom furnishings, all of which are obviously very difficult to resist.

A couple of problems though.  Firstly, like most suppliers, the goods they offer are for purchase either for cash or on credit.  No surprises yet.  Also HomeChoice neglect to state the total credit price of each item, contrary to the requirements of the Control of Goods (Marking of Goods) Regulations.  But then that’s what most stores do.  Despite being told repeatedly they seem to have ignored it.

But, for once, that isn’t my concern.  The thing that struck me was that everything about this leaflet was South African.  All the prices shown were in Rand.  All the contact details given were South African.  The only concession made to those of us not lucky enough to be in South Africa was a telephone number which was, of course, South African.

Part of the leaflet was an order form.  This requires you to give HomeChoice various pieces of information like your name and address but also your bank, employment and income details.

What interested me most of all was a very small comment on the leaflet that said “HomeChoice complies with the National Credit Act”.  This of course is the South African National Credit Act.  I’m not sure that what they claim is perfectly correct.  I’ve got a copy of the NCA and the subsequent National Credit Regulations and Section 21 (3) of the Regulations states that “If an advertisement… discloses a monthly instalment… the advertisement must also disclose… (the) total amount of all instalments”.  Unfortunately HomeChoice don’t do this.

But there’s a bigger issue.  The NCA is South African.  It’s not a Botswana law.  We are in Botswana.  I understand that HomeChoice doesn’t actually have stores in Botswana and is mail order only.  But the people we’ve spoken to paid HomeChoice in Pula.  In Botswana.  So HomeChoice is operating in Botswana.  Our laws apply.  Yes, the NCA applies as well because, as a South African company, HomeChoice had to register as a credit provider before they could sell on credit to South Africans and that registration and the Regulations apply even when they sell to us as well.

More importantly this is Botswana.  Let me put this plainly.


Our laws apply as well.  Nowhere in the leaflet does it say that you renounce the protection of our laws.  There IS a reference on the leaflet to the Terms and Conditions which are available online on the HomeChoice web site.  Right at the very end they say “This agreement shall be governed in all respects by South African law”.  Fine, that’s terrific but HomeChoice shouldn’t forget that we are in Botswana.  The agreement can be a South African one but their conduct must accord to OUR standards and laws.

Another thing.  The leaflet gives prices in SA Rand.  What about the VAT?  The leaflet says “Prices include VAT for sales in RSA”.  So does this mean that the prices do NOT include VAT if sold outside SA?  Does that mean that HomeChoice will knock off the 14% VAT before they sell us the products?  What exactly ARE the prices they are offering in Botswana?

Yet another thing.  As well as all the other fantastic offers the leaflet also says that any purchaser is covered by their Customer Care Plan which offers you “delivery protection”.  This protects you against “incorrect delivery”.  We don’t need that.  The Consumer Protection Regulations as well as simple contract law give you that anyway.

Enough.  I can find lots of other things in the HomeChoice leaflet that concern me but I’ve run out of space.

Back to the original point.  We are NOT insignificant.  We are bigger than the smallest South African province.  More importantly we are an independent nation.  If South African companies want to come to Botswana and sell us things then they should behave the way WE require them to.  All we are asking is to be treated the same way occupants of a small South African province are treated.  Is that too much to ask?

Don’t forget that Consumer Watchdog is back on air.  Every Thursday morning between 7:15am and 8:00am listen to DumaFM to the all new, improved Consumer Watchdog show.  And some SERIOUSLY good music.

Finally, an appeal.  Can you think of a song we should play on the show that’s relevant to consumer rights?  We started last week with R.E.S.P.E.C.T. by the wonderful Aretha Franklin.  What do YOU think we should play?

This week’s stars!
  • Mpho at Chutneys Restaurant in Gaborone for always being friendly.
  • Mavis from FNB Kgale Hill Branch for preventing a problem happening rather than fixing it afterwards.
  • The entire team from Mochudi Engen filling station from a regular customer for consistently great service.
  • Shadrack from New Capitol Cinemas for a very good response to a problem.
  • Mr Sola at the main Post Office in Gaborone for caring for his customers.

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