Tag Archives: National Consumer Commission

SA Butler Academy apologises to 2019 student Lin Yang, and to refund her costs by court order!

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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Meat labeling scandal: SA retailers mince their words! Gordon Ramsay may be a-maze-d!

A study conducted last year by the University of Stellenbosch Animal Sciences department has found that more than 80 of 139 meat products (about 60%!) from a range of supermarkets around South Africa were found to contain ingredients not specified on the labels, City Press reported yesterday.  All local retailers were incriminated in the study, but most have carefully minced their words, not accepting responsibility for the findings.

The results of the study conducted between April and August 2012 were initially withheld, but a Media24 Investigations application for ‘Access to Information’ was successful in making the detailed information available. The key findings of the study were that:

*   almost 60% of the meat products tested contained the ‘DNA’ of donkey, water buffalo, goat, and pork, which were not specified on the product labels.  More specifically

+   Food Lover’s Market Westville’s cheese beef burgers contained the DNA of water buffalo, sheep, and chicken, unlabeled, in addition to the beef

+   Mutton mince from the same Food Lover’s Market also contained beef, pork, and chicken

+   Boerewors from Grobbies Butchery in KwaZulu-Natal was found to also contain pork, sheep, donkey, and chicken

+   Checkers Stellenmbosch’s housebrand beef boerewors also contained pork

+   Mutton bangers at the same Checkers branch also contained beef and pork.

+   Pick ‘n Pay East Rand Mall’s boerewors housebrand specifies beef, but was found to contain the DNA of pork and sheep.

+   Woolworths’ French polony contained DNA of chicken

*   some products do not contain the main meat ingredient reflected on the pack, so that a beef burgers were found to be more chicken than beef.

The study was conducted last year under the guidance of the University’s Professor Louw Hoffman, ‘one of the world’s foremost meat researchers’, just after food labeling legislation was introduced, demanding far stricter food labeling requirements. The new legislation allows for stiff fines and even imprisonment for non-compliance, but appears to not have been actioned yet. The University stated that the DNA presence in the samples tested did not imply a health risk to consumers, and could have come from using the same equipment on the same surfaces for the cutting or mincing of different meat types, without cleaning them in between.

The National Consumer Commission had meat tested which had been imported from Brazil via Sweden, after a tip-off that it may contain horse meat, but this ingredient was not found. Ironically infamous chef Gordon Ramsay endorsed Checkers steak and also its Championship Boerewors in a TV advertising campaign last October – he may regret his endorsement, given the release of yesterday’s findings, indicating that 20 of 32 Checkers and Shoprite products were incorrectly labeled.

Professor Hoffman concluded that meat product mislabeling is a common occurrence in South Africa, which is illegal, but it is also offensive to religious groups not eating certain meat types, is unethical, and could be unhealthy!

Most supermarket chains had their PR machines issuing statements immediately, mincing their words about a finding that can hurt their businesses badly.  All were quick to blame ‘cross-contamination’ for the test results, reported News24.  Woolworths said that it would investigate, believing that ‘cross contact‘ was the cause, and not ‘deliberate adulteration‘.  Shoprite also indicated that it had not deliberately misled consumers, and that it did not make economic sense to add lamb to a beef product, due to its higher cost. Pick ‘n Pay stated that the traces of other meat types were ‘minute’, and within the 1% allowance of undeclared products caused by cross-contamination. Spar said that the industry should improve labeling.

The international horse-meat scandal, and the results released of the local meat labeling study are cause for concern, and are likely to move consumers to reduce their (especially processed) meat intake, to buy at more upmarket supermarkets such as Woolworths, and/or to go back to buying meat from a trusted butcher.

Chris von Ulmenstein, Whale Cottage Portfolio: www.whalecottage.com Twitter: @WhaleCottage

Consumer Protection Act appears to have become an April Fools’ joke!

Last year, on April Fools’ Day, the Consumer Protection Act became effective, and was heralded as being much-needed legislation to protect consumers against poor service, misleading advertising, and the sale of shoddy products. With the legislation came the establishment of the National Consumer Commission, which was to receive complaints from the public against businesses contravening the Act, and to act against them. Now it appears that the National Consumer Commission is a near failure at executing its mandate.

According to The Times, the National Consumer Commission’s head Mamodupi Mohlala-Malaudzi has become a keen issuer of compliance notices against businesses, many of which have been overturned by the Consumer Tribunal, at a great cost to the businesses affected even if they were successful in getting their cases withdrawn.  A report prepared by the Consumer Tribunal about the operation of the National Consumer Commission has found that its major weaknesses are that compliance notices have been issued without following the correct procedure or being ‘defective’, ‘failure of the commission to understand the act’, issuing notices which the Consumer Protection Act does not allow, badly written documents with errors, ‘contemptuous and unprofessional conduct by the commission when dealing with opposing lawyers and the tribunal‘, and ‘undermining the work of the tribunal’, very serious allegations indeed!  In addition, the National Consumer Commission was found to base its decisions on ‘subjective views’.

It was the findings of this (confidential) Consumer Tribunal report that the National Consumer Commission used to (unsuccessfully) try to have the Consumer Tribunal’s rejection of the Commission’s case against Auction Alliance set aside in the Pretoria High Court.

A compliance notice can cost a business found guilty in terms of the Consumer Protection Act R1 million or 10% in annual turnover if the ruling of the National Consumer Commission is not adhered to.  To date 33 cases have been referred to the Consumer Tribunal, including companies such as Eskom, City of Johannesburg, BMW, Audi SA, Peugeot Citroen SA, Kia, Volkswagen, Telkom, Vodacom, MTN, Top-TV, Cell C, and Multichoice. Of these, the correct procedure in issuing a compliance notice was not followed in six cases, and the Commission did not file responding affidavits to thirteen of the notices!  The newspaper article quotes the example of the City of Johannesburg, against which 45 compliance notices have been set aside!  Only big corporates can afford to challenge a compliance order, due to the cost involved, meaning that smaller businesses are forced to abide by such orders, even if the complaint is unjustified.

It would appear that Mohlala-Malaudzi’s days are numbered at the National Consumer Commission, as her contract with the Commission has not been renewed, expiring at the end of September, a matter which she took to the Labour Court and lost.

In dealing with businesses, it is surprising how few companies know about the Consumer Protection Act, and abide by it.  One of the clauses of the Act prescribes that all repair work must be preceded by written and signed off quotes, but this rarely happens, as we have experienced for car services and repairs at Mercedes Benz in Century City, where they are quick to add R10000 – R20000 of extra nice-to-have part replacements.  We also saw a notice at All Active Electric in Sea Point, which states that repair quotes not accepted will be charged at R50, contravening the Act. Two lamps were given to this company to be fixed, one requiring a wire to be fitted back into the switch, and another needing the brass fitting holding the bulb to be repaired. We were shocked when the bill came to R150, 50% of the purchase cost of the lamps, with additional repairs done which were not requested.  When queried, the staff member quickly dropped the price to R95.  No quote was received, and even the lower price felt like a rip off, despite the quick 24 hour service.  Action TV came to fix a TV channel reception problem at our guest house last week, and could not find a solution on its first visit, despite having done past repairs. A ‘booster‘ was deemed to be necessary, and despite asking, we were not given a quote, being promised one the following day!   The bill has come to R4650, including the booster costing R1780, cabling to the value of R950, and a number of splitters.  The TV system was installed at the guest house 14 years ago, and has worked perfectly without all these extra items.

It is clear that the National Consumer Commission needs to get its house in order, and that it needs a new broom when its head leaves its employ.  It clearly also needs an advertising campaign to inform business owners of their obligations in terms of repair quotations.

Chris von Ulmenstein, Whale Cottage Portfolio:   www.whalecottage.com Twitter: @WhaleCottage

Cape Consumer Court for complaining customers coming!

Interesting is the news that the Western Cape province is to introduce a Consumer Affairs Tribunal next month, given the existence of the National Consumer Commission which deals with consumer complaints relating to the Consumer Protection Act nationally.  The reason for this may be that the National Consumer Commission appears to be understaffed.

The Western Cape has had its own Consumer Protector for a number of years, and received 9000 consumer complaints in 2011, of which it was able to resolve two-thirds, reports the Cape Argus.  Complaints which have received ‘stalemate‘ status between supplier and customer will be the first ones to be heard by the Consumer Affairs Tribunal, which will run like a court.  Outcomes of cases heard by the Consumer Affairs Tribunal will be the replacement of products or the payment of refunds/compensation to consumers.  A similar consumer court has already been introduced in the Gauteng province. The largest number of consumer complaints relate to the motor industry, ‘serial offender’ cellphone companies, and small food retailers, says the National Consumer Forum.  A bath re-glazing company will be one of the first local companies brought to the Cape consumer court.

The Western Cape Consumer Affairs Tribunal will be chaired by Advocate Robert Vincent, with Advocate Mandla Mdludlu, Herman Wessels, Jacki Lange, Theo Burrows, and Selby Tindleni as further members of the Consumer Tribunal, reports Bolander. Complaining consumers will be represented by an attorney of the Office of the Consumer Protector, while companies can appoint their own lawyers.

The shortage of funding for the National Consumer Commission may result in a four month closure of its call centre, writes Business Report, given the vast shortage of staff.  Of the 28000 complaints it receives per month, its five call centre operators can only deal with 8000.  The National Consumer Commissioner Mamodupi Mohlala is asking for a budget of R 134 million, saying that without the funding ‘we are rendered toothless and there will be serious consequences’.  At any moment 70 calls are on hold at the National Consumer Commission call centre.  Fifteen cases have been brought before the National Consumer Tribunal since April last year, when the Consumer Protection Act came into being.  Investigations of the country’s four largest medical aid schemes, cellphone operators (Cell C, Vodacom, MTN and Telkom), pharmaceutical companies, Checkers/Shoprite, JD Group, and the Lewis Group are being undertaken by the National Consumer Commission.

Chris von Ulmenstein, Whale Cottage Portfolio, www.whalecottage.com Twitter:@WhaleCottage