In 2019 I met Lin Yang, a Singaporean who studied at the South African Butler Academy at what it claimed to be a world class institution, given the marketing promises made on its website. She was expelled from the course on the third day of her studies, allegedly due to being late for her classes. She was not refunded her course fees , and headed to our High Court on a three year journey to obtain her fees and costs back.
After her experience with the SA Butler Academy she embarked on extensive research about the training institution, evaluating its website in the English and Chinese webpages, its brochure, and any other communication about the institution on Google. She interacted with close to 90 other students of the institution, receiving input from them, finding that there were a large number of similar experiences.
In doing so, she found my 2013 Blogpost about the SA Butler Academy and its misleading marketing, which I had discovered by analysing its website, after I had a bad experience with a student of the institution as a short-lived guest house employee.
My 2013 Blogpost visibility arose from the number of students who have found it on the first page of Google when one searches ‘SA Butler Academy’, despite intensive attempts by the institution to fill its space with links and videos as to push my Blogpost further down onto page 2 or even lower. My Blogpost doggedly remains on on page one of Google, even ten years later!
Miss Lin and I met, and since then we have remained in touch. She refers SA Butler Academy students who have problems with the institution to my SA Butler Academy Blogposts, including the 2013 one. In the past three years Miss Lin has been determined to find any avenue to evaluate the truthfulness or not of the SA Butler Academy claims made on its website. She found, for example, that :
*. SA Butler Academy owner Newton Cross had not been the Butler of the late President Mandela, as claimed. Miss Lin reported this to the Mandela Foundation, which pressurised the institution to remove his name from its website.
*. Miss Lin was shocked that a photograph of her and a classmate was used on the Academy website for publicity purposes, despite only attending two days of the course and being a litigant against the Academy.
*. She discovered that the SA Butler Academy could not provide proof for the following claims made by the institution on its website:
#. That its courses are accredited
#. That it has proof of its claim of ‘No. 1 Butler School in the World’
#. That SA Butler Academy owner Newton Cross holds a claimed qualification from the ’Buckingham Palace Butler School’
#. Newton Cross’ claim that he worked as a Butler on the Queen Mary 2 cruise ship, when he in fact was merely a waiter.
#. That Newton Cross has worked as a Butler, as claimed, for Former President Bill Clinton, Former President Bush Senior, Former President Mbeki, the late President Mandela, Oprah Winfrey, golfer Tiger Woods, and a number of other celebrities.
#. The partner businesses SA Butler Academy and Guild Recruitment jointly misled students: the SA Butler Academy promised students that they would receive jobs via its Guild Recruitment. Guild Recruitment would advertise Butler jobs, encouraging prospective applicants to do the SA Butler Academy course if they were not already a student or graduate of the institution.
Miss Lin also lodged complaints with the following authorities :
*. The City of Cape Town, for a building accommodating the SA Butler Academy students whilst on the course (students were forced to use the overcrowded accommodation and were charged an additional fee), in violation of a City by-law to use private accommodation for commercial purposes.
*. The Equality Court, which became a directional hearing, and advised that it was not the correct forum for her to claim the funds owed.
*. The National Consumer Commission, where she and 22 other past students of the SA Butler Academy have a class action against the institution.
*. As her residential address and photograph were published on the SA Butler Academy website, Miss Lin approached the POPI (Protection of Personal Information) Regulator to lodge a complaint.
*. Carte Blanche, to whom she and other fellow students reported the matter, and in November 2020 Derek Watts interviewed Miss Lin and I about the misleading marketing claims made by the SA Butler Academy on its website, followed by the broadcast in December 2020. This was a powerful step forward for Miss Lin, yet the institution persevered in not refunding her the course fees. A large number of students interacted with Miss Lin after this exposé on Carte Blanche.
Given the amount of pressure which Miss Lin was placing on the SA Butler Academy, the institution created a page of disparagement on its website, defaming her and claiming that she had mental issues. I too have the ‘honour’ of featuring on such a page on the institution’s website, a rage reaction about the high ranking of my 2013 Blogpost, hoping that it would diminish the credibility of my 2013 Blogpost, which obviously has impacted on the credibility of the SA Butler Academy.
Ultimately Miss Lin appointed legal firm Dunsters Attorneys, and excellent advocate Adam Brink, for legal action. A year ago she and the legal team were granted 3 August 2023 as the court date. The SA Butler Academy started an interlocutor motion, requesting R500000 security for costs, possibly to persuade Miss Lin to withdraw her case, but this motion was rejected by the judge as she is regarded an Incola.
On 3 August 2023 an Agreement between Miss Lin and the defendants South African Butler Academy cc, Butler Holdings (Pty) Ltd, Butler Training (Pty) Ltd, Guild Recruitment (Pty) Ltd, Newton Hilton Cross, and Willem Adriaan Coetzer was made a Court Order (Case number 10430/2020):
‘ 1. The Defendants will repay to the Plaintiff the fee paid by her of USD 5200, at the exchange rate on the date of payment by her to the Defendants, plus the sum of R32 947, 62, plus interest on both sums at the prescribed rate from 30 April 2019.
2. The Plaintiff abandons any claim against the Defendants for damages flowing from the defendants’ unauthorised use of the Plaintiff’s image for publicity, and the violation of her dignity.
3. The plaintiff withdraws the complaint with the National Consumer Commission and the Information Regulator against the defendants.
4. The Defendants will pay the Plaintiffs costs on a party and party scale, subject to the following:
4.1. limiting the Plaintiff’s counsel’s costs with respect to appearance at the trial to those incurred for the hearing on 3 August 2023; and
4.2. Each party to pay their own costs reserved in the order of the Honourable Justice Meer of 24 February 2021; and
5. The parties will agree to publish the joint statement annexed hereto marked ‘A’ ‘
‘ I took on the SA Butler Academy to also assist other aggrieved past students as well as future students to be protected against the misleading marketing of the institution’, she said. She is particularly concerned about protecting the rights and interests of female students, stating that not all students have other qualifications from reputable educational institutions as she has been fortunate to experience.
In the past four years of living here, waiting for the Court date and action, Ms Lin experienced the beautiful natural resources of our country, praising them, and expressed the hope that there would be better governance of them.
She thanked her legal team for their dedicated action in her case against the SA Butler Academy, her advocate being happy with the positive outcome.
She wishes her fellow 22 students well at the National Consumer Commission in their class action against the SA Butler Academy. Ms Lin is no longer part of this action.
Chris von Ulmenstein, WhaleTales Blog: www.chrisvonulmenstein.com/blog Tel +27 082 55 11 323
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