Thursday, October 17, 2019

INCREDIBLE CUSTOMER SERVICE FROM SHAHEID ALEXANDER, THE MAN YOU MIGHT NEVER SEE


Dear Readers,
A rare pictu
         It’s scary in the dark when a North Wester could be battering your windows with sheets of rain or the South Easter is threatening to blow just about everything away. Not to worry you’ll still get it.
         They didn’t call this part of the world the Cape of Storms for nothing.
         You probably will never have seen how your paper arrives, but when you wake up in the morning it will be in your driveway, just like clockwork no matter how foul the weather is.
         If you are a newspaper subscriber in Cape Town’s Southern suburbs you will have experienced that mystifying miracle daily or at week ends.
         Ten years ago Shaheid Alexander gave up his conventional job as an administrative assistant at the Cape Town City Council for a will-o`-the-wisp existence of sleepless nights delivering papers.
         He starts his night at around 10.30 p.m. and doesn’t get back to his home in Mitchells Plain until four or five in the morning. He and his team of two deliver Business Day and the Financial Mail during the week and the Sunday Times, Economist and the Financial Times at the week-ends.
         It’s a 30 km drive from his home to the industrial area of Paarden Eiland where they collect the papers and that’s before he even starts his delivery round to customers spread across suburbs from St James to Noordhoek, Fish Hoek and Simonstown.  
         Shaheid alone travels something like 200 km a night. He is constantly haunted by the Fourth Industrial Revolution that is threatening to eliminate printed papers. His team was also delivering The Times, a daily that was an offshoot of the Sunday Times, but when that went digital only two years ago the two drivers who work for him lost out to some degree. They only deliver the Sunday Times at the week-ends now to more than 300 homes.
         They get paid per copy as well as a transport allowance. Shops are not on their route as they only deal with subscribers.
         My wife and I have been getting our Sunday Times delivered to our home in Kommetjie ever since we arrived here 10 years ago and before The Times ceased being printed we got that every day during the week as well.
         It was uncanny the way Shaheid’s service was virtually faultless. On the rare occasions that our paper didn’t arrive as expected due to something  beyond his control I would phone the Sunday Times’ Cape Town office and low and behold within an hour or so we had it.
         A couple of Sunday’s ago there was no paper, but not long after I phoned Shaheid was ringing the bell at our gate. He had driven the 30 km from his home just to bring us our Sunday Times.
         It was the first time I had ever set eyes on our mystery paper man.
         “I have to see to my clients,” he told me. “They come first.”
         Aged 57 he is married with three grown up children and four grandchildren.
         “We don’t meet our clients, but I love this job,” he said. And it certainly shows in the way he does it.
         His parting words to me were: “It was nice to be of service to you, Sir.”
         You could not get a better example of a job well done.
         Thanks a million Shaheid.
         Regards,
         Jon, a Consumer Watchdog who finds it such a pleasure to meet a shining light like Shaheid at a time when bad service is very much the norm.  We need many, many more Shaheids. The owners of the Sunday Times are lucky to have him.
P.S. Any firm in the service industry wanting to improve its image could not do better than to get its staff to follow Shaheid’s example.    

Monday, September 23, 2019

PONZI SCHEMES SCANDAL - HEARTLESS SUNDAY TIMES PROMOTES THEM AND GIVES THEM EDITORIAL IMMUNITY FOR ADVERTISING IN IT

Dear Readers,
Eben Gewers Head of
Advertising Sales at the
Sunday Times 
          Is it okay for South Africa’s biggest selling national paper the Sunday Times, renowned for its investigative exposé’s, to accept adverting inserts without question? Ones that cry out: ‘Ponzi scheme! This will surely devastate thousands of families.’
          Scams like this thrive in an economy in which people are struggling to make ends meet, because they offer a means of making a lot of money quickly.           
          In this case one ad was from the impressively named CommEX Global Corporation Limited Sheung Wan operating out of Dundee (population 40 000) in Kwazulu Natal.
          It offered readers the chance to become rich by investing in various minerals from coal to iron ore; manganese and dolomite. The promoters claimed that because of their “long term relationships” with mines around the world they could buy these minerals at below market price and then sell them “at a profit.”
          The big hearted philanthropists that they are however didn’t want to keep this profit for themselves. “Now for the first time ever, that profit can be yours,” they told readers.
          For an investment of R57 600 (minimum purchase amount) you could buy 72 tons of coal which they would then “assist you to sell at a profit” resulting in you being paid R5624 a month for 18 months. You would thus almost double your money with R101 232 in the bank at the end of the period.
          It would have been fun, if one had the money and didn’t mind losing it, to have invested the minimum in coal and told them not to sell it, but to rather deliver it to their Dundee premises so you could pick it up. My guess is they had no intention of buying any minerals at all.
          Similar hard to believe returns were given for the other three minerals.
          On 1 September 2019 the CommEx advertising insert appeared in this Tiso Blackstar owned paper just three days after BusinessLive, the online business website in the same group exposed CommEx as a Ponzi scheme.
          It revealed that the Financial Sector Conduct Authority (FSCA) was investigating both CommEx Minerals and Coin-It Trading that appeared to be an allied company, as they were suspected of operating fraudulent schemes with a high likelihood that investors would lose their money.
          FSCA was said to have named Michael Andre Anthony de Beer as the director of Coin-It and Patricia Ursula de Beer, who was believed to be his ex-wife, as a director of CommEx Minerals.
            Coin-It was promising returns of up to 200% in only three years by selling trucks to investors, which it would then use for all kinds of “logistic services relating to transportation and distribution” to earn the amounts promised.
            When FSCA got wind of it investigators raided the offices of CommEx Minerals as well as the private home of a former director of Coin-It. A notice outside Coin-It’s premises in the Avon Industrial Area of Dundee announced that FSCA had closed the business until further notice.
          According to this authority neither firm was licensed to provide financial services or to receive deposits from the public.
          Brandon Topham, a director of investigations and enforcements at FSCA described Coin-It as showing “hallmarks of a Ponzi scheme.”
          In the Sunday Times of 1 September there was another insert together with the CommEx one. It was clearly from the same people. Entitled My House it enticed the public to buy a R335 000 a timber framed, prefabricated house over any period they chose up to 25 years. Once the full price was paid the house would be built on their property. It involved: “No Banks, No Interest, Zero Deposits, No Delay!” they claimed.
On 9 September I sent Topham a copy of the My House advert that was in the Sunday Times and asked if they were also investigating this.
He replied: “No we were not, but we are now.”
A 51 year old divorcee who supports her son, his girlfriend and her 2 year old grandchild, was one of the many people who lost money after buying trucks through the Coin-It scheme. When investors started being given excuses as to why their payments were not being made several Facebook groups were established. They had various opinions about whether or not Coin-It was legitimate.
“A person, who wishes to remain anonymous, contacted me and told me to read these posts,” she told me. “He explained that I had been caught up in a Ponzi scheme. I didn’t want to believe him, but he had no reason to lie.
“I realised then that there were no trucks because if you add up all the membership numbers on the various social media groups there are in excess of 10 000 of them. Then there are those that don’t’ do social media.
“I am not sure that Dundee could accommodate that many trucks. The smallest investment was R130 000 and the largest R500 000.”
          All went well for her in beginning as she was getting her regular monthly payments. Then cracks began appearing in the scheme before her contract was over, and between this and another truck she bought on the same basis she lost money.
She was never given any conclusive evidence that the trucks she bought actually existed.
See: feisty rowena james 
By accepting advertisements for Ponzi schemes like this without taking even the most elementary precautions the Sunday Times was spreading misery just to make money. The paper raked in an estimated R500 000 for the two inserts and if they had gone in its 310 000 copies they would have been seen by and awful lot of people throughout the country.
This shocking behaviour was compounded by the editorial side of the paper that clearly does not bite the hand that feeds it.
After being told on the phone by Debbie Thompson that she was the advertising manager of the print side of the Sunday Times I sent her this email to be fair to her paper by getting it’s side of the story. In it I asked her the following:
1.    “Does the Sunday Times vet very out of the ordinary inserts like this, before it agrees to carry them, by looking up the advertisers on Google for instance?
2.    “Does the Sunday Times ever check with the authorities to see if firms making offers like this are licensed to conduct financial services or receive deposits from the public, before it accepts adverts of this kind?
3.    “The Business Section of the Sunday Times carries a warning (nowhere near any advertisements) telling readers to “carefully scrutinise advertisements offering investment opportunities.” So why does this warning not appear on the kind of advertising inserts I have mentioned?
4.    “And if the paper wants readers to scrutinise advertisements of this kind to avoid being had, why doesn’t the Sunday Times do the same thing, especially when the claims made in these two inserts were so unlikely to be fulfilled?”

Instead of getting a reply from Debbie Thompson I got one from the Head of Advertising Sales Eben Gewers.
He told me: “Inasmuch as we try very much to encourage ethical advertising, we however do not accept any liability nor offer warrantee to the content of paid ads. We warn readers in all our publications regarding their responsibility to scrutinise adverts.”
These warnings have got less conspicuous over the years. Top
          is 2010 with bottom the current one that is not even in the
        main paper, but tucked away in the one corner of Page 2 of
the Business section nowhere near any adverts.
         I replied: “From what you say you don’t take even the most elementary precautions to ensure that crooks don’t promote their Ponzi schemes in the Sunday Times, which effectively means this paper aids and abets crooks. I accept that you can’t be blamed for things that are not right in some advertising, but when you have inserts for the likes of CommEx and My House, people in an investigative publication like the Sunday Times should be able to recognise them as suspect.
The Sunday Times clearly doesn’t care if a Ponzi scheme it advertises destroys thousands of lives as long as it is making money.
“It’s significant too that even though the On-line business section of your group has exposed these people for what they are, and so have other publications, the Sunday Times has not mentioned a word of what has happened to these two Ponzi schemes.
“The moral to the story seems to be: If you don’t want your dirty deeds to be exposed in South Africa’s biggest selling Sunday paper, put an advert in it.”  
I also asked him to tell me what they did to ‘encourage ethical advertising.’
My email to him was dated 15 September. I have not had a reply so I think it is reasonable to conclude that he did not dispute anything in my email.
Regards,
Jon, a Consumer Watchdog and self appointed Poor Man’s Press Ombudsman, who fears that his old paper has really lost its moral compass now.
P.S. From 2010 onwards I campaigned on my blog to get the Sunday Times to stop carrying get-rich-quick ads. Eventually some years later it appeared to have stopped this, but not before a lot of lives had been ruined. Then it lapsed by carrying another one in January this year & I wrote this post. 
SUNDAY TIMES AT IT AGAIN WITH TOO GOOD TO BE TRUE ADS No more were featured until these two Ponzi scheme ad inserts appeared. It seems that thousands of people, many of whom were blacks, who could least afford it, were taken for a very expensive ride by the people who were behind these Ponzi schemes. Like so many big businesses all the Tiso Blackstar Group is interested in is making money with the Sunday Times regardless of the ethics of what it does to achieve this.

ROWENA JAMES - THE FEISTY PONZI SCHEME SURVIVOR

Dear Readers,
          This is Rowena’s story of how she threatened to further expose Ponzi scheme crooks on Facebook unless they paid her up to date. And they did when nobody else was getting their money.
“It was way over my head and I was fighting this battle solo on the advice of a complete stranger. To be honest I was getting excited at the idea that an ex-housewife was caught up in this surreal life of crooks, scoundrels and just plain shady characters,” she told me.  
She had invested in two Coin-It trucks hoping to solve her financial woes after she heard the company was promising investors an up to a 200% return on their money in just three years.
PONZI SCHEMES SCANDAL - SUNDAY TIMES ADVERTISES THEM & GIVES THEM EDITORIAL PROTECTION FOR DOING THIS
          At the age of 51 Rowena had just got a R640 000 divorce settlement, which she invested with Sanlam in 2015. That was more than enough, you would think, for her to start a new chapter in her troubled life.
          It began badly. Our crime riddled society caught up with her. She had loaded some furniture she had bought into her new little car only to be robbed by five men. They took all the furniture; crashed her Getz into the driveway gate and went off with her phone and handbag as well. The only good thing was that although she was badly traumatised she was completely uninjured. 
          Durban based Rowena had to withdraw R30 000 of her money to repair the damage to her car and to cover some other expenses.
          She had no house of her own as it had been sold when her marriage broke up with the proceeds being divided between her and her ex.
          “I had been a housewife for most of our married life so I don’t have a very good CV,” she continued. “Plus I’m not at the best age to be job hunting.”
          While she was still married she had a nervous breakdown. This she believes was because she was so “wrapped up in my own suffering” that she didn’t pay enough attention to her two sons now aged 34 and 30.
          The eldest is married and works as salesman.
          After her divorce she has had to support her other son. He has some disabilities but is studying bookkeeping and works part time driving for an organisation that sells flowers and teddy bears at night clubs for charity.
          Rowena has also taken his girlfriend and their two year old child under her wing.
          “She lost her job when the tea room she worked for changed hands around the time my grandchild was born. They are both wonderful parents and are actively seeking employment so as to provide for their son.”
          She spent some of her money on courses that she hoped would improve her employment prospects, but none of them worked out successfully.
          Disheartened she found she could not make ends meet on the R4 000 a month she was getting from her Sanlam investment.

          That’s when her brother told her about somebody, who bought trucks and
then leased them back to the company. So she withdrew her money from Sanlam and paid Coin-It a R210 000 deposit on her first truck. This was one of the companies run by members of the De Beer family
          “For the first 16 months I was going to be paid R21 687.50 and then I would have effectively paid off the truck. Thereafter I would be paid R37 500 per month for use of the vehicle to the end of the 36 month agreement.”
          This was towards the end of 2017. The value of the 2006 Man truck and tipper trailer was given in the agreement she signed as R440 000.  
          “After the first month’s payment came through I decided to get another truck for a total price of R140 000. For the first 16 months I was to get R15 468.75 a month and thereafter R30 250.”
          The truck this time was a 1999 Peterbilt 362, also with a tipper trailer.
          “For the first 16 months everything went smoothly. I got my payments on time. On the 17th of January 2019 when I was supposed to have paid off my first truck I got the usual R21 687.50 instead of R37 500.”
At this stage she was still well and truly hooked. “I had wanted to start saving the extra amount to buy another truck since each contract only ran for three years. So I phoned the guy who had signed me up. He told me he had had the same trouble with his, and when he inquired about it Coin-It had informed him that they had made a mistake on the contracts and the repayment period was supposed to have been 18 months.
“It was the first inkling I had that something was wrong. By this time my best friend had decided to get a truck too, because mine had been doing so well.”
CoinIT's Dundee premises that is believed to have contained
        some trucks but I was not able to establish whether they were
           just for show or the ones the investors were supposed to have got 
Her friend received her payments regularly for five months and after that they were both having payment problems. They were given all kinds of dubious reasons for this. So Rowena found some Facebook Coin-It groups.
“One had in excess of 4200 members and the other nearly 2000. The larger one had quite an aggressive admin so I didn’t post anything there. I got lots of information from that group though.”
She did however post a comment on the smaller group asking if anyone was still awaiting payment. What followed was a revelation that is so typical of the tremendous damage that Ponzi schemes like this can do to so many lives.
“Pretty soon I had a long list of comments; people were worried about being evicted, some had loan repayments that were due, school fees etc,” she continued.
“Once in a while a person would post that they had received a payment, and the rest of us would feel a little more hopeful. Coin-It told us to request a letter via email explaining to our debtor’s that our payments would be late. I did apply for one, and to date I have not received it.
“So I posted to the group that my landlord laughed at my letter that Coin-It never sent. The next day I received a payment. I also received a stern warning from the group admin not to be so negative on my posts. My friend, who does not go on social media, had still not received any payments.
“About this time I was contacted by a person, who wishes to remain anonymous. He told me that these scams were all run by the De Beers and that I was caught up in a Ponzi scheme. He advised me to make as much noise on the Facebook groups as possible and demand my payments. By now my rational side was kicking in. I realised there were no trucks.
“Then I got advice from yet another total stranger. He told me the De Beers are bullies and if they threatened me with legal action I should let him know. He was watching my posts and their reaction.
The De Beer family is a lot happier than most of their investors.
          Here they have just received the 2018 Mayor of Umzinyathee's
       (Dundee) special award for contributions to sport in the area. At the
 time they were said be from Cosmic Transport
After posting more questions on the groups they started checking so she realised she would have to start her own group.
“Within two days my page which was entitled: ‘Is Coin-It under investigation?’ received more than 200 views. My group grew to over 100 members in two days. It was posting links to other De Beer scams like Commex and Maningi (something to do with upmarket clothing).
“I received a lawyer’s letter telling me to remove my defamatory posts or they would institute legal action. I contacted my online buddy and asked for his help in penning a response. He obliged and I typed it up, not understanding one word of it, and sent it back. I was told in reply that if I improved my posts and took down my page I would receive my payment. I retorted that I would remove my posts and page in return for full, up to date payment.
“Within an hour, R106 000 was deposited into my account. Two days later investigators from the Financial Sector Conduct Authority (FSCA) and the Hawks swooped and seized computers from the De Beer’s premises.
“The September payment that I was promised is overdue and I did not receive any papers for my trucks and trailers.”
This hush money she was paid did not work as far as these shysters were concerned. Her statement is with the Serious Commercial Crimes Unit and she has given the FSCA copies of her contracts.
Rowena ended her email to me with this: “During all this I have been working alongside people I may never meet, heard heart wrenching stories about the very poor, who took their retrenchment packages and invested just before this scheme crashed. Their hopes and dreams dashed in a moment. These De Beers from Dundee seriously need to be stopped. There are still thousands of investors that believe the lies that they are being fed.
“Please help spread the truth.”
Rowena was extremely lucky. It was a close call that she did not lose a lot more than she did. This was probably because she was one of the earliest investors and more importantly because she fought so courageously to get what was due to her. She made just R62 929. He deposits, plus installments came to R900 687 and she was paid R837 758.
No doubt she’s back to struggling to make ends meet while the De Beers are rolling in money.
Rowena deserves the highest praise for sticking her neck out to help take these heartless charlatans down. When she initially emailed me she did not want her name mentioned. But she agreed to let me use it after I explained that I don’t quote nameless people, except in very exceptional circumstance, because they don’t have much validity. Anybody can thumb suck a great story about an anonymous person.
Regards,
Jon
P.S. Rowena’s story is what the Sunday Times should have printed instead of helping these Ponzi schemers to spread a lot more misery. It’s hard to think of worse double standards than an investigative newspaper that exposes other people’s short comings every week, while promoting Ponzi schemes in its advertisements.
       

  

Tuesday, August 27, 2019

ARE CLAIMS BY TOOTHPASTE MANUFACTURERS FACT OR FICTION?

Dear Readers,
Dr Renier Putter
          How believable is this: Procter & Gamble (P&G), a huge American consumer goods multinational claims that its Oral-B toothpaste “helps rejuvenate gums and repairs enamel in just two weeks.”
          Founded in 1837 P&G employs 95 000 people and is known for brands like Olay, Pampers, Tampax, Vicks and Gillette. You surely don’t build an empire like that by hoodwinking your customers.
          Then we have Britain’s pharmaceutical giant GlaxoSmithKline telling us that its Sensodyne product is “Clinically proven to Rebuild Enamel Strength for strong healthy teeth.” And what’s more its New Sensodyne can actually “Repair sensitive teeth.”
          Another addition to the miracles being performed by toothpaste manufacturers is the red, white and blue striped Aquafresh that is also made by GlaxoSmithKline. It maintains that “when you brush with our great tasting formulation, active minerals microscopically absorb into your teeth, fortifying and strengthening them from the inside out.”
          And in an ad on South Africa’s DStv we are told that it “strengthens enamel.”
          The makers of Pepsodent Cavity Fighter, another American brand claim that it has the uncanny ability to repair holes that are so tiny they are invisible. With its Active Micro-Calcium and Fluoride it repairs these before they become cavities. How clever it that?
          No doubt there are numerous other toothpaste brands making similar amazing claims to keep up with the competition.
          So does this mean that if dentists are not yet out of business they soon will be?
          Logically these manufactures must have scientific evidence to back what they are telling us so I contacted people who one would expect to know about the proof available. Surprisingly these fundis were unexpectedly tight lipped about this aspect of what the producers are openly bragging about.
          Who better to answer my questions, you would have thought, than Dr Renier Putter the Chairperson of the South African Dental Association (SADA). After giving him some details of the claims made for both Oral-B and Sensodyne I asked in an email: “What independent scientific evidence is there that Oral-B repairs teeth?  Is there any independent scientific evidence that any toothpaste can actually restore the enamel in your teeth?”

          I also asked: “If Oral-B is so good for your teeth and gums why does it say in small print on the box that it is only for people over 12 years of age and you should ask for your dentist’s advice if it is going to be used for children over the age of 6?”
          My questions were evidently so hard to answer that I got a second hand email reply from him via Khomi Climus (KC) Makhubele, SADA’s Chief Executive Office. But Dr Putter conveniently dodged all the issues completely by telling me to contact the manufacturers; look up websites and get hold of the packaging regulator.
This is the ad on SADA's
website
          This was hardly surprising as an advertisement for Sensodyne toothpaste appears on SADA’s website.
          I also sent an email to Caitlin Morrison Oral-B’s South African brand manager in Johannesburg. My questions to her were similar to the ones I asked Dr Putter. I assumed that if he could not do it, she would be definitely  able to provide the scientific evidence that shows Oral-B can repair teeth.
          It turned out that what they are telling us about Oral-B is so true that she evidently felt it would not be prudent to reply to my email. I even phoned and asked when I could expect to hear from her, and although she mumbled something that implied she would get back to me, I am still waiting.
          Oral-B contains Propylene Glycol which was nominated in 2018 by the American Dermatitis Society as the Allergen of the Year. Even though it is only found in 2 to 3% of allergy cases the nomination was made because it is so common. This synthetic compound is added to all kinds of things such as cosmetics, certain foods like bread and even brake fluid, as well as some types of antifreeze  
          At GlaxoSmithKline’s Johannesburg’s office they went one worse. I got the complete brush off. The woman on the switchboard refused to give me the name or contact details of the Sensodyne brand manager. She asked for my contact details and said she would pass them on. I’m still waiting to hear from somebody there.
This is obviously not true unless the manufacturer can prove
it has canvassed ever dentist in the world. And if you lie about
one thing how can anybody believe anything else you claim?
          The United Kingdom's Advertising Standards Authority ordered P&G to change its advertisement promoting its Oral-B Gum and Enamel Repair toothpaste. This was as a result of seven complaints it received about the ad that appeared on TV in 2017. In it viewers were told that its active repair technology “helps rejuvenate gums and repair enamel in just two weeks.”  
          Among the complainants was a qualified dental nurse.
          The ASA decided that as the toothpaste was not licensed as a medicine P&G could not be allowed to make any medicinal claims about it. The authority stated that consumers would have got the impression that the toothpaste could reverse damaged enamel within two weeks and the use of the words “repair” and “restore” implied that it could do much the same thing for gum disease.
          P&G argued that its claims were not medicinal as weakened enamel was not a disease. Its product also contained stannous fluoride, which has an antibacterial ingredient that controls the growth of bacteria and toxins.
Katharine is a South African journalist who writes news stories mainly about health.
My experience with this type of company was much the same as hers so they mustn't
complain if they are not properly represented in this post of mine.
          If everything is above board with these toothpaste claims why all the secrecy?   Unfortunately nobody in authority in South Africa does anything to stop the way the public is being misled.
          Regards,
          Jon, a Consumer Watchdog, who found that the more he investigated the toothpaste world the more he realised it was a Hell of a B….. trying to work out who is actually telling the truth. There are more tall stories about toothpaste than the average person has teeth. The tooth fairy would be more likely than some of these multinationals to come up with plausible promotion material for their toothpaste.
P.S. Ironically toothpaste brand owners even fight among themselves about what is true. Last year Colgate-Palmolive complained to Britain’s ASA that Sensodyne’s True White did not whiten teeth any more than its normal toothpaste.  For this reason the ASA decided that the True White ad was “misleading.” Colgate-Palmolive itself has had the truth of its own advertising seriously question by the ASA. In 2018 it upheld six complaints about Colgate’s Sensitive and Repair toothpaste. The advertising watchdog found that the claim that this “repairs teeth instantly” could not be substantiated. Other Colgate ads banned previously included one that showed an endorsement from a woman, who said she was a nurse, when in fact she was an actress.
P.S. Most, if not all the brands I have mentioned can be bought at South Africa's supermarkets and pharmacies.
  

Friday, August 16, 2019

FRESHENING UP FOOD LOVER'S MARKET'S 'BEST IN FRESH GUARANTEE'


Dear Readers,
Brian Coppin
          I don’t know if you shop at any of the 105 Food Lover’s Markets in South Africa, because if you do I wonder if you have had similar experiences to mine regarding their 'Best in Fresh Guarantee.'
          Founded by brothers Brian and Mike Coppin in 1993 they brashly claim their group holds ‘the honour of being South Africa’s undisputed leaders in fresh.’
          I’m sure you’ll agree with me that a brag like that takes a lot of living up to especially when you are in the business of selling fresh fruit and vegetables, products that can so easily go off.
          For some years now I have been buying our fruit and veges almost every Friday, first at the Food Lover’s, Tokai branch in Cape Town and more recently at the Long Beach Mall one from when it opened in 2012.  And being the conscientious Consumer Watchdog that I am I usually email the CEO Brian, if I notice anything that is obviously wrong.
          I believe that no business can be expected to put something right if you just complain to your wife and friends instead of a top executive, who can do something about it.
          As far back as March 2011 I emailed Brian saying that I had bought some pre-packed beetroot and carrots from his Tokai store in packets that you could not easily see through. "When we opened them at home," I went on, "the beetroot was of a very poor quality and the carrots were mostly rotten because they were so wet. I also bought five loose grapefruit and while picking these out I came across four others that were rotten. You badly need better quality control."
          He apologised, giving poor stock rotation as the probable reason. He described this as "inexcusable" and told me that they sell about 70 tons of these two products every week with very few complaints.
          “All our pre-packed products should have a sell-by date on to ensure good quality and I have instructed the Buyers and Regional Managers to investigate why this was not done, and to immediately ensure this practice is adhered to,” he assured me.
          Seven months later in November 2011 I told him that nobody seemed to be taking any notice of him because I was having a job finding any sell-by dates in the Tokai store. "This no doubt explains why there are pre-packet items like mealies on the shelves with black mould on the ends," I added.     
In July this year I raised a series of questions with Brian in an emailed letter. Here they are together with his reply and one from Regional Manager Demetri Gaffley.
I began by saying to Brian: "If your Long Beech Mall branch is anything to go by it seems your stores are not living up to the very impressive undertakings your group claims to live by.
"What’s the point in your stores promoting the slogan ‘The Best in Fresh guaranteed’ when, at least one of them, puts obviously vrot fruit and vegetables on the shelves at very reduced prices, as if that suddenly makes them fresh. And if your Long Beach Mall branch keeps doing this, is this the general policy adopted by all your 105 South African branches, as well as the others outside the country?
"On Friday 12/07/2019) when I was at your Long Beach branch pre-packed, clearly rotten bananas were for sale at the knock down price of R10 for two. Some time ago this store had punnetts of what were obviously rotting waterblommetjies on the shelf with the price reduced by 50%. They were removed after I complained.
"Your website tells us that your business was built by you and your brother Mike on ‘traditional family values of trust, honesty and integrity.’ You also claimed to be ‘South Africa’s undisputed leader in fresh.’ How does discounting what anybody can see is rotting food gel with any of these family values you are so proud of? 
"Then there is the case of the pears that are too fresh to ripen. I have twice bought two different types of pears that were just as hard weeks later, as when I bought them. But like the rotting fruit and vegetables your staff was fully aware that there was a problem with the pears concerned yet they still had them on the shelves. On the first occasion many months ago I got the manager to come down from his upstairs office and when I pointed to the tray of loose pears he immediately said: ‘Yes I know they don’t get ripe.’ This was before I told him what the problem was. More recently when I bought a different variety of pears that were pre-packed a similar thing happened. This time it was another member of staff who told me that these do not get ripe. If your staff know that there is this problem with particular pears why are they still kept on the shelves?
"On another subject: Friday is billed as ‘Pie Day’ at your Long
Beach branch, when pies are usually sold on the basis of buy two and get one free. It strikes me as being very bad business if you have a regular promotion like this and by around 11.30 in the morning the pie warmer is just about empty.
          "After I complained to you on May 31 about the fact that there had not been any steak and kidney pies for weeks you replied saying you could not believe ‘we are offering service like this’ and you would personally get hold of Demetri as well as the baking supplier to solve this problem of ‘piss poor service.’
          "Your intervention brought back the steak and kidney pies but the service was as bad as ever on ‘Friday the pie day’ (12/07/2019) with the pie warmer being just about empty at 11.30 in the morning. I bought the last three steak and kidney pies, which left the warmer devoid of pies. All that remained were some sausage rolls at the bottom.
          "On the outside of your stores there are notices which tell us you have ‘Best Quality’ and under a ‘Best Service’ heading it says that if the staff don’t live up to ‘your expectations tell us about it and you’ll receive a R100 FLM shopping voucher.’
          "Well for some time now I have been telling you about how the your stores have not lived up to my expectations and not once has anybody even suggested that I should be given any kind of shopping voucher. My complaints to you were not motivated by the possibility of getting a voucher as I only noticed this undertaking a couple of days ago."
          I also asked: "Does anybody ever get one of these vouchers?"And : "Is the Long Beach Mall branch a franchise operation or one of your own?"

          Here’s Brian’s reply: "Thank you for your support and letter. I am obviously very upset that the Fresh Produce team continuously disappoints you. We at both Head Office and throughout the DC’S had a massive drive around our guarantee for over 15 months now, and it’s disappointing that you haven’t experienced any of the ongoing work being done. 
          "I can only once again apologize for the above and promise you that every Buyer, Regional Manager, Distribution Manager and Marketing Team will visit this store and get to the bottom of this. They are not living up to the guarantee.
         "I have also copied the Speciality GM, and Buyer and Baker Specialist on the pie issue.
         "I don’t know why you didn’t receive a voucher, but please accept one of R300 for your inconvenience.
          "We have given, and still give out 20/30 vouchers per month and will continue to do so to live up to our guarantee.
          "Long Beach is a corporate store and that disappoints me even more.
          "I trust we can win you over as a satisfied customer once again.
           "Kind Regards,
           "Brian Coppin." (He copied this to Karriem Fredericks; Demetri Gaffley; Paul Rauch (FNV); Warren Minnaar; Vito Polera; Sandro Gastaldi; Robin Wainright; Cecelia Wainright; Travis Coppin; Roxy Norman and Bonita van Niekerk).
          Shortly afterwards I received this email from Demetri Gaffley: "I would like to answer the last two 2 questions that Brian has not answered, and hopefully satisfy you.
Question: Is it acceptable to have pears on the shelf that the manager and staff know don’t get ripe?
The answer is NO.
Question: Is it your firm’s policy to discount fruit and vegetables that are going off?
The answer is YES, and at this stage up to the discretion of the store manager, but can be overruled by store visits/inspections from Head Office. We reduce and markdown to clear, which should be visible on price boards. As for the bananas, the exact opposite, unacceptable for sale and not at any price."
          He then thanked me for my valued feedback.
          After receiving those two emails I decided to pay a special visit to the Long Beach branch to see if there had been any improvement in the sell-by date situation compared to 9 years ago, when Brian first raised the subject.
          They were few and far between I can tell you. There were none on very perishable items like pre-packed strawberries, kiwi fruit or papaya, whereas the same fruit at Pick n Pay a little further down the Mall all had sell-by dates on their labels.
And this is at a Group that trails behind Food Lover’s in the fresh league, if the Coppin brother’s boast can be believed.
A member of Food Lover’s staff told me they only have sell-by dates on fruit salad and similar items that they make themselves, but not on pre-packed product they get from their suppliers.
Founders Brian & Mike
Coppin
I accept that fruit and vegetables tend to go off quite quickly and that if you are in this kind of business it’s inevitable that some items might not be up to standard on the shelves now and again. But that’s very different from trying to sell something at a reduced price because you know it has gone off.
          Also as a shopper you have to wonder why one group doesn’t have sell-by dates on certain items and another one, that has been in existence far longer, does.
          Regards
          Jon, the Consumer Watchdog who was extremely impressed with the frank way Brian and Demetri dealt with my criticisms. It seems that running a business like theirs is not as simple as pie.
P.S. They got the value of the R300 worth of vouchers they gave me back with interest because I put them towards the R360 I spent on 12 R30 hamburgers. I handed these out to men waiting forlornly at street corners in the rain for jobs that would never materialise.
P.P.S. It looks as though the Long Beach Mall manager Karriem Fredericks either doesn’t get the boss's emails; he ignores them or he can’t get the message through to his staff. When I was at this branch today (Friday 16 August) the pineapple shelf was half full with the most horrible looking fruit. When I showed him two he said they were unacceptable. Half an hour later when I was back in the store to buy something else somebody was busy removing these. He had a trolley completely full, both top and bottom with ones he was about to take away.   

Sunday, July 28, 2019

SOUTH AFRICA'S PRESS PROTECTION RACKET


Dear Newspaper Readers,
Pippa Green Press Ombudsman
          Did you know that large sections of our press are running their own protection racket unhindered by the Press Ombudsman or anybody else? And a Judge, who is currently heading a media ethics inquiry, is not prepared to consider this decay in our newspaper morality.
          The inquiry has been established by the South African National Editor’s Forum (SANEF) and the Judge’s treatment of my submission does nothing to support SANEF’s claim that it is there to “fight for the highest standards of ethics in the media.”
          The papers involved are the Daily Sun and the free People’s Post community weeklies in the Media24 stable as well as Caxton's The Citizen daily.
          Even Professor George Claassen Media24’s own Ombudsman had nothing good to say about the Herbalist advertisements that appear in his Group’s papers. "I agree with you, many of these ads are totally misleading and even fraudulent,” he said.
          Steven Motale the Editor of The Citizen at the time I wrote my story also agreed that the ads were not believable.
          They have people claiming to be doctors, professors and the like who can win you the lotto, enlarge your penis and do all kinds of other amazing things, almost over night. Some even offer a 100% guarantee. 
          Of course its illegal to call yourself a doctor when you are not one, but the papers don't worry about that. All they are interested in is making money. In the 17 May 2019 edition of the Sun there were two pages of these ads with 10 advertisers claiming to be doctors.
          As I knew the Press Ombudsman did not deal with advertising, another aspect of my campaign to stop these papers lying daily occurred to me. This was the editorial side of these, something this Ombudsman is definitely mandated to deal with, as she is there to rule on complaints against print and on-line publications. So I contacted Pippa Green, who became the new Ombudsman a couple of months ago.
This is typical
of the Herbalist
ads that appear
in the Daily Sun
          “I realise that your office does not deal with advertising,” I began. “But this is about the immoral way certain newspapers give crooks, who advertise in their papers, editorial immunity from having their activities exposed in their editorial sides.
          “At the same time a host of other dubious characters, who don’t advertise, get their comeuppance in the same papers.”
          My complaint, she told me, first had to go to the Public Advocate Joe Latakgomo. A former newspaper editor he was given this job last year to champion the complaints of members of the public, because one of the issues raised at a press commission was that the public’s voice was not being heard.
          The irony was that way back in 2011, when I was campaigning to get the Sunday Times to stop carrying get-rich-quick ads that promised unrealistic returns on investments, he was the internal Ombudsman for the Avusa Group, the owners of that paper. I upset him by suggesting that he was a lame duck ombudsman.
          An article he wrote in the paper, prompted I believe by my complaints, was headed Beware of dubious advertising claims. It looked as though the paper was finally going to stop aiding crooks.
          “These come-ons,” Joe told readers, “eroded the public's trust in newspapers and false advertising, or advertising that makes claims that are patently exaggerated, impact on consumer confidence.”
          He then gave this assurance, “We will continue as journalists to expose those who cheat and lie to our readers.” Nothing happened and it took several more years of my campaigning before the paper stopped taking this kind of ad. I’m sure it would never concede that my blog had anything to do with this change of policy. It did however have one lapse last year.
          Joe left the Group not long afterwards and as far as I know it has not had an internal Ombudsman since. It has changed hands several times in the last few years.
          I told Pippa that I did not think Joe was the right person to deal with my complaint in view of my dealings with him when he was with Avusa and she replied: “I cannot breach the Complaints Procedure by leapfrogging the Public Advocate in the first instance.”
          Guest what: she evidently did exactly that because I never heard from Joe and she effectively kicked my gripe into touch.
          She conveniently ignored what I wrote about the editorial side of these papers, even though this is the part of them that is the reason for her existence. “We do not at the moment have the jurisdiction to deal with advertising,” she told me.
Judge Satchwell
          Retired High Court Judge Kathleen Satchwell, who is heading the SANEF Inquiry with two retired journalists, took much the same view of what I had put to Pippa. She too completely ignored the editorial aspect.
          In my email to her I stated: “The gist of my submission is the immoral way certain South African newspapers have for years been aiding and abetting crooks to rip off those, who can usually least afford it, by carrying their advertisements that are clearly fraudulent. This media cancer has been compounded by the papers giving the shysters editorial immunity from having their activities exposed in their editorial sides.”
          She replied saying: “We consider that your concerns as to ‘fraudulent’ advertising falls beyond our remit. We have no powers to investigate criminal behaviour, which the connotation of ‘fraud’ certainly encompasses.”
          Her last statement was absurd as nowhere in my 13 page submission did I so much as suggest that they should investigate the fraudulent advertisements. It’s patently obvious that this is not something the Inquiry could be expected to do.
          I told her that in her reply to me Pippa Green wrote that they had another complaint from a man who lost a lot of money by responding to an ad in a community paper for a Profit. “We wrote to the editor of that paper,” Pippa continued, “and she has undertaken to help the police investigation and to speak to their advertising department about the type of advertising they accept.”          
          So once again somebody was ripped off with the help of the dubious side of the South Africa press, I stated in my submission to Judge Satchwell.
          I pointed out that Pippa Green did concede, however that: “We agree that many advertisements are problematic and undermine the credibility of newspapers. But we only have the tools of persuasion at the moment rather than instruction because we do not have jurisdiction over ads per se.”  
          She added that the Press Council’s Executive Director Latiefa Mobara had met with the new head of the Advertising Regulatory Board CEO Gail Schimmel, “who is also aware of the problem of misleading ads.
          “Will continue working with her and speak to editors to see what we can solve, but in the meantime, the ARB is the body to deal with such complaints.”
          The ARB replaced the Advertising Standards Authority (ASA) that was so bad it was liquidated. When I complained to the ASA about misleading newspaper ads I got the complete run around. I was told they did not have the power to tell papers to stop carrying these, as they could only deal with the individual advertisers. They wanted me to submit a separate complaint for each ad that I believed was not kosher.  And I don’t expect the ARB to be any different.
          At one stage the ASA stated it had ruled against Herbalist advertisements "on numerous occasions, and it is hoped that the appropriate authorities will address this issue as it is no doubt causing harm to the credibility of legitimate healers and practitioners and this industry at large." As usual nothing happened.
Former Sunday Times
Consumer columnist
          These advertising authorities, like the Press Council (the Ombudsman is part of this) were established and financed by the industries they serve, so their impartiality is very questionable when it comes to dealing with complaints. What’s more they only have a tenuous control over those advertising agencies and media groups that are their members. They are essentially there to protect their masters, who pay for them and to give the illusion that they are looking after the interests of the public.         
          I ended my submission with: “It’s not surprising that newspapers go on printing the kind of lies I have referred to because the Press Council has little or no power to effectively police the press in South Africa. As the Independent Media (It owns papers like the Cape Times, The Star in Johannesburg and various others) showed, if a newspaper group doesn’t like Press Council decisions that go against it, all it has to do is resign as a member. It then has a free rein to go on doing whatever it likes or in this case appoint its own internal ombudsman.
You can’t get more absurd than having a Press Ombudsman, who concedes that the kind of advertisements I have referred to “undermines the credibility of newspapers,” but, conveniently,  she hasn’t been given the power to do anything about them.
        The terms of reference for the Inquiry that the Judge is heading state that its purpose “Shall include: Investigation of ethical breaches on the part of the media industry in South Africa and those obstacles to accountable and credible media practice.”
Well if ever there was an obstacle to “credible media practice” it was the Judge’s decision to refuse to consider my submission.
Regards
Jon, the self appointed Poor Man’s Press Ombudsman.
See also (sunday times at it againlies lies and more lies & 
sunday times will never expose this)
P.S. I wasn’t optimistic that my submission to the SANEF Inquiry would get beyond first base. But if you don’t try you never know. SANEF represents editors and senior newspapers journalists and other people in the media. So I could hardly expect my views to be taken seriously because, if they were, the papers concerned might have to do without a good slice of their income. In my one man, 10 year long campaign to stop papers from continuing to print what are obviously money making lies I sent emails to SANEF’s director at the time Mathatu Tsedu, as well as the current director Kate Skinner to try to get them to do something about this. I didn’t even get a reply. 
P.P.S. The two journalists with the Judge on the panel are described as being 'retired from the industry.' They are Nikiwe Bikitsha and Rich Mkhondo. In an email to Nikiwe I told her I presumed this was done to emphasise their independence. But if Google is up to date she is the founder and CEO of Amargi Media and Rich also has his own public relations company. From what I know about public relations firms, keeping in with the press is very much part of what they do when they want to get maximum exposure for their clients. So people who are still in this business can never be described as being 'independent,' if they form part of a panel that is investigating newspaper and journalistic ethics, even if they were once journalists of some kind and have since moved on into the public relations world. Some might argue that even journalists, who are retired  and are in no business at all, can't be described as 'independent' when heading an inquiry of this kind. I sent this to her on 21 July  and on 24 July I emailed her again saying that if I did not hear from her by the week-end (27 July) I would assume that everything in this email was was correct. I heard nothing from her, although she was 
the person who acknowledged the receipt of my submission.