WE had no warning when the locusts came: just a dark dust cloud that turned out not to be dust, and a rustling noise that grew louder and louder. They covered everything, the street and my garden, within seconds.
The hair on your arms stands erect with horror as you watch them crawling and fluttering. Gooseflesh tingles right up to your skull. You want to jump on them; do something to get rid of them. But as your foot stamps down the displaced air simply sweeps the insects away.
It was a horrifying experience and there was huge rejoicing in the town when the swarm moved on.
But in fact the locusts haven’t gone. They’ve settled in every tiny dorp, each city and town. You see them as you drive down the main streets of platteland villages, even if there are only half a dozen other shops.
I’m talking about the guys who loan money to hard-up members of the community. Who effectively sell money at an outrageous price to those who can afford it the least.
Yes, there’s legislation that should control these swarming money lenders and make sure the damage they do is kept to a minimum. But it’s as easy for them to dodge the restrictions of the law as it was for those locusts to evade my stamping foot.
And that’s why I was in a celebratory mood after I read the judgment related to one such locust, DeNoon’s Cash Loans.
The National Credit Regulator had brought an action against DeNoon’s to the National Consumer Tribunal where it was heard by a three person bench headed by presiding member Diane Terblanche.
This isn’t the first time that DeNoon’s has been in trouble with the authorities. Previously they had been found to be keeping the bank cards and PIN numbers belonging to their clients, among other prohibited conduct. DeNoon’s promised to rectify their behaviour and an agreement to this effect was made an order of the tribunal a few years ago.
Yet now they were back in the dock as it were, and this time the regulator was asking for tougher action.
The tribunal was given evidence of various kinds of unlawful conduct by DeNoon’s, like not giving clients full information about the cost of their loans or credit, as required by law. They also charged more than allowed, and charged more than they had quoted their clients.
When a client concluded two agreements on the same day they charged double ‘initiation fees’; they didn’t check properly, as they were supposed to do, to establish whether a client was under debt review before agreeing to advance credit and they gave loans to people who didn’t qualify.
They also charged for ‘credit life insurance’ – this is insurance on the life of the person taking a loan so that if they die before the money is repaid the insurance will cover the loan. But these insurance policies were never actually issued. DeNoon’s representative told the tribunal that in fact ‘the amounts charged for credit life insurance were internal fees pertaining to the administration of the loan.’
The tribunal found that the randomly selected samples of files showed serious contraventions, made even more serious by the fact that DeNoon’s had been in trouble before. Its ‘exploitative behaviour’ had ‘grave consequences’ for consumers who asked for help and they were grossly overcharged on small loans. The small size of the loans indicated that these were ‘highly vulnerable consumers’, a factor regarded as aggravating by the tribunal.
In the end the tribunal – whose orders have High Court status – declared DeNoon’s behaviour in contravention of the law, ordered that DeNoon’s registration as a credit provider be cancelled, that it had to hand over a full list of past and present clients within 20 days, submit an audited report of all clients and what they’d been charged, and refund all past and present clients everything they’d been wrongly made to pay.
In addition – wait for it – they had to pay a fine of R1-million by December 30 this year.
My excitement didn’t last too long though: after I read the judgment I phoned DeNoon’s free call number. A pleasant sounding woman answered the phone and told me the owner wasn’t in but that they were offering loans as usual out of their offices at 9 Charlotte Maxeke Street, Orkney, and I should come in if I needed any help.
Yeah, right. An invalid loan from an unregistered money lender is just what I need.