The Consumer Protector fights for her job – Saturday Star

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A FIGHTER: National Consumer Commissioner Mamodupi Mohlala-Mulaudzi.
Noni Mokati

Some regard her as a “problem child” – an overly litigious woman who uses any opportunity to run to the courts at first provocation by her employer.

But national consumer commissioner Mamodupi Mohlala-Mulaudzi believes she is nothing but a woman and worker hell-bent on fighting for her rights.

At the height of another court battle with a government department over her job, a confident and yet visibly surprised Mohlala-Mulaudzi spoke to the Saturday Star about her steadfast determination to assist troubled consumers.

But she has refused to succumb to pressure from individuals who still view the world as a “man’s world.”

“I love my job. In a year and a half, I have successfully managed to carve out a definite role of the National Consumer Commission (NCC) and what it stands for. I have worked hard and have stayed committed in all that I do. I relish every meaningful contribution the NCC has made in each and every person’s life. I’d like South Africans to remember me not only as an individual who stands up for herself but someone who makes a difference,” she said.

Mohlala-Mulaudzi, who has a master’s degree in law and is an admitted attorney, said she thrived in her job because of the diversity it brought.

“No day is the same. I could be working with a street vendor today and passing judgment on a high-profile company the next day. That’s what I cherish.”

Although it’s been a blissful year for the former director-general of Communications, it was a case of déjà vu last week when she was forced to come out guns blazing and threatening legal action upon learning that her job was advertised in a Sunday newspaper.

Mohlala-Mulaudzi revealed how, for almost two days, she was paralysed by the advert.

“I received an SMS from a friend who asked why I didn’t inform her that I was leaving the NCC. My husband later brought two newspapers which confirmed this. As I sat down, I thought what could be the possible motive for this. Why my job would be advertised when the public protector informed me that there was sufficient ground for investigations to be conducted on complaints I had lodged about money being withheld from the NCC by the Department of Trade and Industry.”

In hindsight, Mohala-Mulaudzi believes her recent tiff with Minister of Trade and Industry Rob Davies over her rights has created perceptions that she is a problem when issues with her employers arise.

Her problems with Davies mirror her actions in 2010 when she hauled her former boss communications minister Simphiwe Nyanda to court.

Then, as now, Mohlala-Mulaudzi questioned and sought to review plans on the department’s decision to reconsider, among other things, digital terrestrial television broadcasting standards. But she was axed by Nyanda, who cited irreconcilable differences between them.

She said that episode had left her feeling cheated.

“I had the right to interrogate what I felt was unto worth. Although many people think I emerged victorious from that case, I somewhat felt and still feel cheated. Cheated because I didn’t get my job back. My term in office ended prematurely,” she said.

Being brought up by two parents who were active part-icipants in politics, Mohlala-Mulauzdi said for most of her life she knew everything to be black and white.

“I always learnt that you could not question what you felt was wrong.

“But my experiences have taught me otherwise. I have learnt to be cautious of people with vested interests,” she said.

Mohlala-Mulaudzi said some of her most interesting cases included complaints the NCC received from prisoners about the lack of pay phones in some jails.

However, one case that “emotionally drained” her and prompted her to work even harder was of a desperate single mother forced to pay for a car she no longer used.

“To me it was a reflection of a broken dream. Here was this young woman who had saved up money for almost two years only to use public transport when she had just purchased a new car. I remember how hopeless she was. How, then, does society turn away a desperate woman yearning to pay the bills and take the car of her children? She had nowhere to turn. I’m glad that we eventually helped her,” she enthused.

She said before the Consumer Protection Act was passed many consumers had no alternative organisation to approach for help.

“We have managed to deal with anything from home loans to brokering complaints that seem impossible.

“It’s emerged to me that people use the NCC as their last resort. This is why we can never turn anyone away from the NCC,” she said.

But Mohlala-Mulaudzi admits it hasn’t been plain sailing in her term of office.

One of the cases that has had a tremendous impact on her as a commissioner was the complaint about Auction Alliance and its CEO Rael Levitt.

“It was about taking on the big boys. It’s no hidden fact that the property industry has very powerful and influential people. Take former Estate Agency Affairs Board CEO Nomonde Mapetla, for example.

“She was booted out when she revealed discrepancies and prosecuted Wendy Machanick.

“It also comes as no surprise that I handed down my ruling on Rael Levitt on March 30 and almost a month later my job is on the line.

“But that is not my call to make. People need to start joining the dots and looking at the facts,” she said.

She said what was also intriguing was that both she |and Mapetla had to report to the Department of Trade and Industry, and that it was unfortunate the two of them decided to speak up.

“People like myself and Nomonde will always be sacrificial lambs. But this case should be a reminder that the role players shall and have no right to act with impunity.”

While the courts have granted her victory yet again, Mohlala-Mulaudzi said given a chance, she had ambitions to make the NCC even more successful.

Yesterday, Mohlala-Mulaudzi was victorious after the Labour Court ruled that she needed to be consulted before her post could be advertised.

She hopes that the organisation will be made into a Chapter 9 institution – an organisation similar to the public prosecutor established in terms of Chapter 9 of the constitution to guard democracy.

“There is no doubt that there is more work to be done and that the NCC has a large role in shifting the paradigm in how consumers are handled.

“But what we should all remember is that the mandate of government is to serve the interest of people first.

“That is what such organisations are about. That is what I want to be part of,” she said.

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