Going ‘off my trolley’ to help consumers

Karen Kotze, Brian Joss and Karen Watkins.

Consumer column Off My Trolley has been appearing in your favourite newspaper and the other titles in the Cape Community Newspapers family for nearly 25 years. As far as I am aware it is the only consumer column of its kind which appears in neighbourhood newspapers.

The first column was devoted to the high price of potatoes. The latest one dealt with a customer who had a problem with her fibre instalment – which shows just how diverse the issues are that trouble consumers.

Over the years I have managed to get new lounge suites, bedroom sets, new shoes, for customers as well as a pair of sandals for a farmer in Hopefield, near Malmesbury, who wrote to me complaining about the poor quality.

This after he walked them “stukkend” trampling through the mielie fields and cow poo. The company replaced them without question. A few months later the farmer tried it again, but this time with a pair of takkies he bought from a different store. Needless to say this time I didn’t fall for it.

Through the platform of this column, however, I have been able to ask a bank to write off a debt for a Mitchell’s Plain resident who was dismissed for ill-health and was relying on his social grant to feed his family and get a motor dealer to refund a student social worker for a car she bought that she believed was a lemon. It took a while but she was happy with the outcome. While I’ve helped cellphone subscribers to get reconnected, money back or a new device, there are just some things I cannot do.

Years ago a Rocklands woman said I must tell the manufactures to make size two because she has difficulty finding a shoe to fit her feet. A Muslim woman said she had bought shoes from a company that makes them as a job creation project. Afterwards she found that they contained traces of pigskin. She said it is strictly forbidden for Muslims to use any product associated with pigs, so I suggested she return them to the store. I can’t recall if she did. Although the store did later include a disclaimer on its products.

When readers don’t get the result they want, they abuse me, sometimes even before my investigation is concluded or the story is printed. A woman who was employed by a medical aid threatened to send her sons to “donder” me if I mentioned her name. I did, but I am still waiting for the beating.

Over the years many people, especially big business, have wanted to sue me because I have tarnished their reputation. So far I have been lucky. A policeman, though, did report me to the press ombudsman in 2011 because, among others, I didn’t properly introduce myself as a journalist; I published personal information that put his family in danger and that the story was not fair or balanced.

Unfortunately he only gave his version of the story. The ombud dismissed the complaint in its entirety, ruling that the column had not breached the Press Code nor had the officer pointed out any inaccuracies in the report.

That’s why everything must be in writing to avoid any misunderstanding.

Quite a few readers, across the spectrum, appear to have a sense of entitlement, even if they’re in the wrong. And thanks is a word that’s seldom heard. However, writing Off My Trolley is fun, and I’m especially delighted when I resolve an issue for an unhappy customer.

Remember, before you sign a document, read it carefully, and if you don’t understand it, ask for an explanation. It’s your right.

Off My Trolley appears in the Plainsman and its sister titles every week. To contact Brian, email offmytrolley@mweb.co.za