Legal eagle flies home

2012-09-08 11:06

After success as SA’s first consumer commissioner, this tough legal mind will be returning to private practice

After three eventful stints in public office, the question on everyone else’s lips is where to from here for Mamodupi Mohlala-Mulaudzi, South Africa’s first head of the National Consumer Commission (NCC), whose contract came to an end on September 3.

Trade and Industry Minister Rob Davies has announced his appointment of Mohlala-Mulaudzi’s deputy, Ebrahim Mohammed, as acting head of the consumer watchdog body.

“I’m a professional. I’m going to go back to what I was doing before I joined the public sector and that was having a successful career in private practice,” she said optimistically.

Such bold and unapologetic statements have come to be expected from Mohlala-Mulaudzi, an attorney, whose career in public service has been far from smooth.

She joined the public sector as the pension funds adjudicator, where she was successful in advancing the rights of women in relation to being entitled to their deceased spouses’ benefits.

As consumer commissioner, a position she assumed a year and a half ago, her biggest achievement can be said to have been getting business to perceive the consumer differently, knowing that – in her words – “big sister is watching”.

In its first year, the NCC received more than 35 000 enquiries, of which 16 000 were converted to complaints.

Of these, it has successfully resolved an impressive 9 700 thus far.

Among the high-profile cases was the one against Auction Alliance, once South Africa’s most prominent auction company.

This followed a complaint to the commission from Wendy Appelbaum of alleged auction rigging.

Appelbaum disputed the legality of an auction in which she purchased a wine estate for R55 million, only to discover she had been the only genuine bidder and the others had merely been there to drive up her final bid price.

The commission issued a compliance notice ordering the auction company to ensure the auction was nullified for failure to comply with consumer legislation.

The decision was reversed by the National Consumer Tribunal.

Although the commission has had a few decisions overturned by the tribunal, Mohlala-Mulaudzi believes there are a lot of consumers out there who are better off right now because of her office.

Her additional achievements include creating employment opportunities for at least 50 formerly unemployed graduates, the majority of them from rural areas.

“We have also been able to increase the number of black professionals in this sector,” she said.

In total, the NCC has a staff complement of 75 full-time employees.

Just more than 60% of the complaints received by the NCC have been resolved.

This sets the bar particularly high for Mohlala-Mulaudzi’s successor.

Mohammed, who took over this week, faces challenges that include leading an organisation that is immensely under-resourced and operating in an environment where balancing the rights of consumers and that of business is increasingly becoming a fine line.

The executive director of the Free Market Foundation, Leon Louw, said: “The biggest challenge for the National Consumer Commission is that consumer rights have come at a very high price to the consumers.”

He said, as an example, that gone are the days when consumers could buy used goods “voetstoots”.

Today, a consumer buying second-hand items such as a car or machinery is also forced to purchase a full warranty with the product.

“This means a farmer in Matatiele or a domestic worker can no longer buy a product cheaply and choose to fix it themselves.

“Anyone buying a used product now has to pay more as the price now includes warranty. Suppliers are realising their returns.

“It is the poor consumers that are suffering because the cost of complying with the consumer rights laws has been passed on to them,” he said, referring to the Consumer Protection Act and the National Credit Act.

“These laws have massively reduced consumers’ freedom of choice as the price of used goods has increased incredibly,” said Louw.

As for Mohlala-Mulaudzi, she maintains that only history will judge her performance and contribution to the public sector. 

“I believe in freedom of speech,” she said, “I joined the public sector because I wanted to make a difference. I felt there’s a perception out there that the public sector under-delivers.

"Instead of complaining from the sidelines, I decided I wanted to be part of the solution and use my skills and expertise to make a positive difference. And I believe I’ve done that.”


commissioner’s turbulent timeline in office

» October 2010:
Mohlala-Mulaudzi is appointed the first national consumer commissioner as part of an out-of-court settlement with the department of communications after a breakdown in the relationship between her and then minister Siphiwe Nyanda

» December 2011:

The commission receives 35 000 enquiries in its first year

» January 2012:
Businesswoman Wendy Appelbaum lays a complaint against Auction Alliance (AA) for holding an alleged “mock auction” after she purchased a wine estate for R55 million, only to discover she had been the only real bidder
at the auction

» February 2012:
The commission investigates AA for alleged breach of the Consumer Protection Act (CPA)

» March 2012:

Mohlala-Mulaudzi files a complaint with the Public Protector, accusing department of trade and industry (DTI) director-general Lionel October of “unacceptable behaviour”.

This followed the transferral of money allocated to the NCC six months after the commission was established

» May 2012:
The DTI advertises the commissioner position. Mohlala-Mulaudzi announces she’s taking the DTI to court to halt recruitment for her replacement.

The labour court rules in favour of Mohlala-Mulaudzi

» June 2012:
The NCC issues a notice to AA and its CEO, Rael Levitt, for alleged breach of the CPA. The Western Cape High Court overturns the summons of three AA executives, including Levitt, owing to the failure by the consumer body to follow proper processes

» July 2012:
Business Unity South Africa, the National Association of Automobile Manufacturers of South Africa and the Banking Association of South Africa hold discussions with the DTI and accuses the consumer commissioner
of exceeding her authority

» August 1, 2012:

A damning report paints a picture of a dysfunctional commission and accuses it of failing to understand and act within the prescripts of the CPA, the very legislation which gave effect to the creation of the consumer watchdog.

The report quotes the National Consumer Tribunal, the body responsible for ensuring the commission acts within the prescripts of the CPA

» August 2, 2012:

The labour court dismisses an urgent application by Mohlala-Mulaudzi to “force” the minister to reveal whether or not her appointment would be renewed.

This is a third urgent application brought by the commissioner.

The court dismisses a counter-application by the minister to have Mohlala-Mulaudzi declared a “vexatious litigant”

» August 17, 2012:

Mohlala-Mulaudzi’s attorneys are notified of the minister’s decision not to renew her contract.

DTI Minister Rob Davies appoints Mohlala-Mulaudzi’s deputy Ebrahim Mohammed as the commission’s new acting head

» September 03, 2012:
Mohlala-Mulaudzi leaves office

Join the conversation! encourages commentary submitted via MyNews24. Contributions of 200 words or more will be considered for publication.

We reserve editorial discretion to decide what will be published.
Read our comments policy for guidelines on contributions. publishes all comments posted on articles provided that they adhere to our Comments Policy. Should you wish to report a comment for editorial review, please do so by clicking the 'Report Comment' button to the right of each comment.

Comment on this story
Comments have been closed for this article.

Inside News24

Traffic Alerts
There are new stories on the homepage. Click here to see them.


Create Profile

Creating your profile will enable you to submit photos and stories to get published on News24.

Please provide a username for your profile page:

This username must be unique, cannot be edited and will be used in the URL to your profile page across the entire network.


Location Settings

News24 allows you to edit the display of certain components based on a location. If you wish to personalise the page based on your preferences, please select a location for each component and click "Submit" in order for the changes to take affect.

Facebook Sign-In

Hi News addict,

Join the News24 Community to be involved in breaking the news.

Log in with Facebook to comment and personalise news, weather and listings.