Sofia from the Golden Girls often started a story with: “Picture this, Sicily 1943….”
Now, picture this, South Africa 2014. You’re 77 years old. You’ve paid all your taxes and dues that were required of you all your life. You even paid (and keep on paying) your TV license because the SABC told you it is the right thing to do.
Then one day you get a letter from an attorney that advises you that you owe the SABC thousands of Rands for arrear TV license fees. That, the attorneys tell you, is because you have not paid your TV license for the past 18 (yes, eighteen) years. Whoopee!
Clearly it is a mistake, because you have proof of your paid TV License.
After a bit of digging, you find the mistake. Phew! The SABC has two separate records of you! The one is paid up; the other one is in arrears. But OK, everyone makes mistakes. So you inform the SABC of their honest mistake, and consider the book closed.
Now you get a call from yet another debt collector. She advises you that the SABC has taken note of your paid up TV license. However, they have now cancelled the record of the paid up license (let’s call that license #2). They will retain only the license that they claim went unattended for the past 18 years ((let’s call this license #1). And you still owe the SABC thousands of Rands.
?! Hoe bedoel die mevrou dan nou!
Now starts the lengthy calls to, first the debt collector, and thereafter, the SABC TV Licence Compliance Department. Here you are offered the following explanation:
License #1 has not been paid since 1997, they say. This means that their records indicate that for the past 18 years you had been a pirate viewer. For eighteen uninterrupted years, you have made yourself guilty of this crime. And for this18 years they did nothing about it.
License #2, they say, you took out in 2005, and since then you had indeed been paying that license. But they only became aware of the existence of license #2 once you told them about it. Since you’ve now made them aware of the fact that their own records in fact indicate that at the very least from 2005 you had been paying a tv license, they kindly offer to give you a credit of what you have paid on license #2, still leaving a substantial amount in debit. But they will be nice and allow you to pay only half of the outstanding money, and even allow you to pay it off by way of a debit order.
Exasperated you ask, but how can you be expected to now just pay for something that the SABC alleges happened between 18 and 10 years ago? Especially as it is clear that their record keeping neglected to pick up the fact that you had, in fact, been paying for a tv license for at least since 2005. Had the SABC made enquiries 18 years ago, then you would have been able to provide them with proof that it had been paid.
Sorry, the lady at the SABC Licensing Compliance Department advises, a claim by the SABC for license fees never prescribes. So it matters not that they waited 18 years. You still need to pay.
Being a reasonable person, and being aware of the fact that the SABC avails itself of only the best human material to deal with these matters, you set out to write them a nice presentation in which you state the above facts, and kindly request them to peruse their records to see whether they might not, in fact, find maybe a license #3 or whatever that may clear the mystery of the alleged outstanding fees for years 18 – 10 years ago. Or alternatively, to just write off a debt which they clearly cannot convincingly prove exists.
A week later you receive an sms from the debt collection agency (whom you have copied in on your nice presentation) alerting you to the fact that you are in arrears with your TV license. Yeah, right. So you send off your presentation again, this time to three different people at the debt collecting agency, and yet again to the SABC.
The debt collecting agent responds by reminding you of your outstanding balance. They now also includes the rather ominous rider that it is a criminal offence to not pay your TV license. And, they say, because you are now a defaulter and a bad girl (apart from being a criminal for not paying mos), you do not qualify for the old age rebate. If you want that, then you must first pay the thousands of Rands on arrears.
The debt collecting agency diligently follows you up regularly. Each time you refer them to the SABC, who is, after all, their instructing client, and who up to now has not bothered to respond to your presentation.
This has been going on for months now. Still no word from the SABC. It must be all those matriculants that weigh them down.