Consumer protection: An overview since 1994
Authors Tanya Woker
Affiliations: Professor of Law, University of KwaZulu-Natal (Durban)
Source: Stellenbosch Law Review, Volume 30 Issue 1, 2019, p. 97 – 115
South Africa has a Constitution that is celebrated internationally because it recognises that economic and social rights are just as important as civil and political rights. These rights are legally enforceable rights and since the early days of the newly installed democratic government in 1994, substantial measures have been introduced to promote and advance the social and economic welfare of South Africans. In theory, South African consumers appear to be the best-protected consumers in the world. Unfortunately, the reality is somewhat different. There is a high level of consumer frustration in South Africa which sometimes even translates into violent protest. Despite the government’s best intentions, effective consumer protection remains a distant dream for the majority of consumers. The article considers a three-pronged strategy that is necessary before there can be effective consumer protection: consumers must have knowledge of their rights, consumers must have access to redress, and the law must be enforced. Consumers who are unaware of their rights remain vulnerable and easy prey for exploitation. This poses enormous challenges for the authorities because so many consumers in South Africa reside in remote rural areas. Even if consumers are aware of their rights, it is still extremely difficult for them to enforce their rights. This calls for effective consumer courts in the provinces as well as a well-functioning and effective National Consumer Commission ("NCC"). The NCC is the primary entity established to champion consumer protection and enforce consumer rights in South Africa. The article also calls for the establishment of more specialised ombuds, as ombuds have often proved to be the most effective means of resolving consumer disputes.