Dear Editor

Obscured view

Your editorial is nowhere to be found in issue 150. Please advise.

R J Purshotam
Bishopsgate, KZN

Thanks for noticing. It made way for a late story about corruption in the crime intelligence unit of the SAPS. Comment on that report was tucked away in a box at the foot of the page. See promised Inge Peacock/ Stuttafords update in this month's editorial. Ed.

♦ Lt General Richard Mdluli (“The Police Commissioner’s Dirty Secrets”, nose150) must be brought to justice. Please keep up the pressure.

Johann Laubser
Delaire, Stellenbosch

A gold star

We read your report (in nose150) on the threat by Tiger Brands’ attorneys Spoor & Fisher, to do the heavy on a small carpentry shop called All Wood – for parodying their brand name, All Gold.

We concluded: how totally stupid of Tiger/Spoor & Fisher – and how totally amusing and smart of carpenter Mike Rule to choose that name for his business.

As we live in KZN, we cannot support Rule’s business, but what we can – will do – is tell everyone about this and suggest that they stop supporting All Gold.

We know it’s unlikely to make any discernable impact on Tiger’s sales, but at least we stand on our principle.

And, if this goes legal, we would love to help Mr Rule financially, albeit modestly, as we’d just love to be part of the victory which we know he will have against the big corporation.

Mark and Stella de Chalain
Hillcrest, KZN

Vile vituperation

I am a regular Noseweek reader and found your article about an Umhlanga doctor (“The unkindest cut”, nose150) completely out of line. This is a domestic matter, experienced by many couples. A man of integrity, he deserves a four-page apology in your next edition.

In your apology, you will need to research the days, weeks and months that this professional man has dedicated to his patients. And do a bit of soul searching: are there any perfect matches out there?  Do we have a perfect record? Have we served our fellow humans in any way remotely resembling the way this dedicated man has served his patients? 

A disagreement with a partner, director or wife, does not need to be broadcast in the way Noseweek addressed this report. The doctor is correct in not offering Noseweek a response: why lower himself to this level?

There are R200 billion fraud cases out there, real dodge balls. Why report on personal domestic issues?

Roy Armour
Harding, KZN

If he’s the man of integrity you suggest he is, he would have dealt with the breakdown of his marriage and the related division of assets with integrity. Re-read the story, then be the judge.Ed.

Offence conveyed

I refer to two articles concerning conveyancer attorneys that appeared in Noseweek (noses99 and148) which have only recently come to my attention.

Whilst I fully agree that “Banks keep lapdog lawyers well fed but firmly muzzled”, I am offended by your dismissal of my profession as “not rocket science, could be handled by a variety of people”.

When I qualified as a conveyancer in 1985, I had studied for a law degree at UCT, completed two years of legal articles at a law firm, written a tough attorney’s admission exam and a tougher conveyancing exam which had a 50% failure rate at the time.

 The offending comment can only have been made by someone who has no knowledge of the complexities involved in proper conveyancing. Whilst I agree that most conveyancing matters are straightforward, often situations and issues arise which require the application of legal expertise gained through years of intensive legal training and background  knowledge of a variety of different laws that affect conveyancing.

Your dismissal is both ignorant and insulting.

Ironically, although you attack banks, your statement that conveyancing could be handled by a variety of people would accord exactly with what the banks want, which is to be allowed to employ their own paralegals as conveyancers. Your sentiment may be realised with the impending implementation of the Legal Practice Bill which has as one of it’s aims “the abolition of the reservation of conveyancing for conveyancers only”. I wager that eventually you will rue your own words.

For the record, I was once on a major bank’s “B” panel for bond registration, which allowed conveyancers to register bonds that they referred to the bank, as opposed to “A” panel attorneys, who automatically received a monthly quota of bond work. Along with numerous colleagues, I was subsequently removed from the panel because I was “too small” to qualify. So I hold no candle for the banks.

Regarding  the comment about conveyancers’ food ( “prosciutto not pap”), I think you are confusing conveyancers with estate agents.

Carol M During
Newlands, Cape

April Fool’s joke?

Was Justice Malala’s flattering interview (eNews channel, Sunday 1 April 2012) with the “one and only” Mzilikazi Wa Afrika – his Sunday Times investigations team has just won another prize for investigative journalism – intended to be an  April Fool’s Day joke?

You will have got only half the joke if you’d read Noseweek’s story about them – “Sunday Times story still stinks” in nose150; to get the other half of the joke, you’d have to have known that TV host Malala was one of the judges who awarded the prize – and that he also writes for the Sunday Times’s sister paper, The Times.

Lentikile Ntloe
Cape Town

An Educor lesson

I own a small business selling promotional clothing. I was approached by Intec College to supply 2 000 - 3 000 student bags for their new intake.

We delivered 2 350 bags in the first week of January and in February, another 3 000. Intec undertook to pay half the bill by 14 February and the balance at the end of February. To date we have received no payment.

We are holding a further 2 000 printed “Intec college” bags while awaiting payment for the first two deliveries.

We owe our supplier R456 000 for the goods ordered by Intec. This debt will put me out of business and I will lose my house and car. Every email and phonecall  to Educor (holding company for Intec College and Damelin) has been to no avail. 

I am at the end of my tether.

Bernadine Neveling
Spotted Zebra Promotions, Durbanville

All we can do is raise the shark alert flag. Had you subscribed to Noseweek, you would have known that the Educor group are people not to be trusted (noses94,95,96, 97). Ed.

Glass houses

Ninety-nine  percent of houses in South African suburbs do not comply with the new building regulations relating to energy efficiency (SANS 10400 XA, 10 November 2011) that have come into force.

For example, if the surface area of glazed windows and doors of a house exceeds 15% of its floor area, you now have to do a detailed set of calculations per room: orientation, overhang of eaves, type of glass, the window-frame material – all of which feature in the calculations “to save energy loss”.

To comply with the new regulations, the owner, must instal thicker glass, double-glazing, even double-glazed sliding doors, which will push up the cost of houses dramatically.

Who will benefit?

Bernice Baily, writing on the glass manufacturers’  building industry blogsite “Design Mind” (on 18 Nov 2011) reports: “Our Technical Manager, Mike Pote, said that Glass South Africa, (linked to the PG Glass Group) were directly involved in compiling the new energy regulations.”

Two independent guys in the glass industry told me this was set up by Hans Schefferlie to ensure huge profits for the industry. (He is also involved in the insulation industry.)

Recently I attended a seminar in Knysna by Hugh Fraser (ex-PG Glass) on the glass regulations. He tried to make light of the new rules, but said something that worried me: in the new insulation regulations, one requirement matched – to the decimal point – the product of a particular local insulator! [French multinational Saint Gobain’s product, Isover. Ed.]

This stinks. It could be the biggest money-making scam in the history of South Africa’s building industry.

And if you’ve bought a plot at the seaside and are dreaming of all those brilliant sea views, forget it: the regulations require that your house must face north, even if all that offers you is a perfect view of your neighbour’s long drop.

The authors of these regulations cribbed them from Australia, where most homes are air-conditioned, and clearly did not apply their minds to our conditions and how we live.  

I support energy saving. We can reduce the amperage in our houses by changing to solar water-heating, cooking with gas, by having our distribution boards modified, by installing relays that switch off geysers when the stove or oven is on. We can insulate the roof and plant deciduous trees to screen us from the summer sun. We can use energy-saving bulbs. We can instal Trombe walls [designed for thermal storage and delivery] to heat our houses for nothing.

But the additional cost of complying with the new regulations will ensure fewer houses are built and yet more jobs are lost.

And don’t do any alterations as you will have to change all your windows to comply with the new regulations.

The South African architectural institutes have done nothing about these regulations, as most members are not even aware of the implications. Architects, it seems, are a pretty dumb bunch of professionals – and too chicken to stand up and fight for what is right.

Donald Quixote
(Another architect too chicken to have his real name revealed.)
Plettenberg Bay

Did you got a licence?

An article in nose149 on the strange ways of mega debt collectors Munnik Basson Dagama (MBD), elicited much comment. Reader Ron McGregor of Cape Town offers useful advice on how to deal with the likes of MBD.

I found your article on Munnik Basson Dagama interesting, as I have been dealing with them for years. MBD have a cosy arrangement with the SABC to collect TV licence payments. I once fell behind with mine, which meant I had to cough up an extra-large payment to get things up to date. Unfortunately, I was one instalment short, and that has led to a truly amazing circus.

It works this way: let’s say you are R60 short on your licence payment in 2003. In 2004, you pay in full. However, MBD take R60 of your 2004 payment and allocate it to your 2003 outstanding amount. They don’t tell you about this, so you are unaware that you are now R60 short for 2004. In 2005, and every subsequent year, you pay in full but each year MBD takes R60 off that year’s payment and applies it to the previous year, so they are able to allege that, every year, you have failed to pay in full and hit you with a 100% penalty. This goes on indefinitely.

Now SABC/MBD doesn’t charge interest on outstandings. The laws governing usury would probably limit them to whacking you for a mere 25%. Instead, they charge penalties. Generously, they rule that the penalty cannot exceed the cost of the licence, ie 100%. However, because they carry over the shortfall each year, they whack you for 100% each year. This means that on the original shortfall of R60 you land up paying around R250 or whatever it is, per annum. So, after 10 years, you owe them around R2 500 on the original shortfall of R60.

MBD’s call centre is run by a bunch of clowns. They only know how to ask for money, but they can't help you reconcile the nature of the debt, so it took me a couple of years to find out what was going on. Eventually I got a statement out of them, reconciled it, and concluded that, in all honesty, I should be paying them around R120 to catch up. So I wrote offering to pay this.

They, of course, were not able to understand. Their books showed that I owed them close to R2 000. All efforts to find anyone intelligent enough with whom to discuss the issue were in vain.

Around 2006 I tired of the whole affair. The TV packed up and there wasn’t anything worth watching any­­way, so I gave it to one of the scavengers who trawls my neighbourhood with a supermarket trolley, asking for any used household appliances that he can dismember for parts. I then advised SABC/MBD that I was no longer a TV owner, so would they please stop debiting me for new licence fees, and could we please agree on what I owed them so we could finalise the matter.

They kept on debiting me, of course. The fact that I don’t own a TV set is clearly not enough to absolve me from the obligation to pay.

I finally decided to take a hard line with MBD, and I would like to recommend my method to the public at large.

First, you must state your position in writing, and send it, per registered post, to MBD. You should offer to pay just as soon as they have provided satisfactory proof that you do indeed owe the money. This puts you on the high moral ground. Now it’s up to them to respond, by providing whatever is necessary to prove the debt.

You should also state that no further correspondence or discussion will be entered into until this first letter has been adequately responded to.

From then on, every time they call you, all you say is: “Do you have the correspondence in front of you?” They won’t have. They don’t work that way. So there is a long silence. You bring the conversation to an end by saying: “Please call me when you have the correspondence in front of you. Goodbye”. I sometimes add a “Fuck off” or two. This doesn’t materially alter the position, but it does relieve a certain amount of the frustration.

By the way, if you do give your old and broken TV set to a homeless beggar, please note that SABC/MBD will require you to provide them with an affidavit confirming disposal of the set. This must include the full residential address of the homeless person, his full name and ID number, and the number of his TV licence.

I presume that the TV licence inspectors are now routinely visiting the banks of the Liesbeek River to make sure that Trevor The Beggar has a licence for the useless box I gave him.

Ron McGregor

When we asked Christopher Harradine, executive director of MBD, for comment, we thought he'd have a great deal to say about it. We were wrong. This was his response:

“The information supplied by your reader is factually incorrect as the SABC is not allowed to impose a penalty greater than the arrears. We are available at all times to resolve any specific issue arising from your reader’s indebtedness to our clients or their concerns regarding our attempts to recover such debt.”

How the hell should we believe you? - Ed.

Whoopee ad leaves bad odour

It is deplorable the way some newspapers have been promoting crooks for years, especially as one particular  publication likes to brag that its team of investigative reporters is there to do just the opposite, writes reader Jon Abbott.

Carte Blanche exposed on TV the activities of two wide boys, Kevin Cholwich and Francois Buys, who were said to have defrauded a host of people of more than R100 million with a variety of scams over the past few years. Two of their companies mentioned were Whoopee and Geo Connect.

What’s that got to do with a paper that is trusted by over three million readers a week, you ask? The Sunday Times has regularly been carrying Whoopee and Geo Connect advertisements – as well as various other suspect ones – that promote get-rich-quick schemes. And all my efforts to get them to stop have come to nothing.

We can’t be expected to check every ad that appears in the paper, they argue. That’s why we specifically warn investors to be careful of where they put their money.

That won’t wash in this case. I have been campaigning in vain for more than two years to get the paper to stop these ads because they could harm many, especially those who can least afford to lose their savings. They went on publishing them.

I first complained to Thabo Leshilo in 2009, shortly after he had been appointed the Public Editor for the Avusa Group (Sunday Times, the Times, the Sowetan etc). This Harvard educated, former editor of several Avusa papers was billed as the Group Ombudsman. He apparently agreed with me, judging by the story headed “Taking a stand on unsavoury adverts”, which implied that something would be done to ensure this kind of advertising no longer appeared. As he put it, ads – like the rest of the paper – had to be believable.

It didn’t take long for the paper to revert to its old ways. At one stage I accused him of being a window-dressing appointment, lacking the power to deal with complaints effectively. He said he’d been agonising over this. Soon afterwards he disappeared, even though Google still lists him at that job.

The ads carried on appearing and I continued to complain.

Kevin Cholwich

Leshilo was succeeded by veteran newsman Joe Latakgomo, whose subsequent reports have given little indication that he is anything other than a run-of-the-mill columnist. I have only seen one that dealt with a specific complaint – mine – and then, he made no definite finding.

In September Latakgomo  wrote an article, “Beware of dubious advertising claims”. It looked as though the paper was finally going to stop aiding crooks. Latakgomo told us these come-ons eroded the public’s trust in newspapers and that false advertising, or advertising that makes patently exaggerated claims, affects consumer confidence.

Not only were these two scamsters not exposed in the paper – even though their dubious history of some 10 years or more was there for all to see on the internet, but the dicey ads continued. Now Carte Blanche has revealed that people who invested in them lost the lot. So much for their money-back guarantees promised in the ads.

One investor was Veronica Diedricks of Krugersdorp, a 47-year-old mother of two teenage boys, who put her entire pension payment of R250 000 into Whoopee. Like many others, she is not shouting whoopee, I can tell you.

Francois Buys

Whoopee was supposed to be a website linked to a call centre to enable people to advertise their businesses at a monthly fee. The men then took huge amounts from franchisees for the privilege of becoming a licence-holder in the scheme.

Diedricks was led to expect that she would earn R60 000 a month after 15 months, but all she got were a few payments of R28 and then a letter saying the business had run out of money and was closing. It had raked in R8m for the fraudsters.

Both Buys and Cholwich are unrehabilitated insolvents who get people to front for them as directors of their companies. They have been going from one failed business to the next. Other names they have used include The Bare Essence, Phone Petrol, Prepaid Online, Duo Dial, Free Talk, Money Call, Dynamic Life and Xtreme Telecoms (its ads also appeared in the Sunday Times).

Without the huge exposure the Sunday Times gave them, I doubt they would have left such a long trail of desperate, poverty-stricken pensioners and bread-winners in their wake.

Jon Abbott
(Poor Man’s Press Ombudsman, who can’t say “I told you so” often enough)
Cape Town

Abbott’s blog: dearjon-letter.blogspot.com

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