Picture: ISTOCK
Picture: ISTOCK

The National Consumer Commission (NCC) on Monday began hearing directly from consumers in its inquiry into the vacation-ownership or "timeshare" industry.

The public hearings, which will be held across the country over the next few months, kicked off in Gauteng, where most of the commission’s complainants reside.

Speaking as he opened proceedings, consumer commissioner Ebrahim Mohamed said: "The Department of Trade and Industry and the NCC have over nearly two decades received several thousands of complaints from consumers, particularly about the points system, contracts in perpetuity which are not governed by the Consumer Protection Act, unreasonable property levies, unavailability of accommodation and many other issues."

He added: "We have tried by reasonable means and measures to assist consumers with these complaints but, as its stands, the issues never seem to stop."

Mohamed encouraged members of the public to come forward, saying the commission was seeking a permanent solution to assist aggrieved consumers.

Among those who turned up to make submissions on Monday was self-employed Ebrahim Mayet, who said on signing his timeshare contract he was told that he could cancel it at anytime but that the company responsible later reneged on this part of the agreement.

"They told us, ‘You cannot cancel the contract. It’s perpetual.’ If we die, our children will inherit our debt," he said.

Nazeema Solomon said she had been stuck in a timeshare deal for 12-and-a-half years and could not get out.

She paid a lump sum of R25,000 when joining and pays about R800 in monthly management fees.

The inquiry panel, chaired by Diane Terblanche, former chairwoman of the National Consumer Tribunal, will produce a report with recommendations. This will serve as the basis of any corrective action taken by authorities.

Zandile Mpungose, an attorney with experience in contract law, and Aubrey Ngcobo, an attorney experienced in property law, are also on the panel.

Terblanche said there appeared to be a pattern emerging from the submissions heard on Monday morning, including the signing of contracts in high-pressure circumstances, low availability of accommodation and the difficulty in cancelling contracts.

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