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Private Property South Africa
Lea Jacobs

Despite numerous assurances that the City of Johannesburg’s billing crisis is over, it appears the situation is far from ideal and that there are still many people who are trying to get their municipal rate issues resolved.

In fact, in July last year, the ANC itself received an erroneous bill for outstanding rates, taxes, and electricity. At the time, eNCA.com published a copy of the municipal bill which indicated that the ANC owed R3 511 248.44 for services to its headquarters, Luthuli House. A complaint was lodged and in this instance, it appears that the matter was resolved fairly quickly.

Legal assistance

Unfortunately not everyone is so lucky. Last year The Hellenic Community of Johannesburg, which owns property, was forced to seek legal help in order to rectify an over-billing situation. It won its case in October and the court ordered that the council reverse the charges. It also ruled that a new meter be installed.

In addition, the court interdicted the council from billing the owners incorrectly. At the time, the council applied for a rescission order to have the decision withdrawn and the matter presented again to give the defendant the chance to present evidence. This however was later withdrawn by the council.

It should have ended there, but the City of Johannesburg failed to abide by the decision of the court and as such Mayor Parks Tau was fined R50 000 for contempt of court and the city’s legal department was ordered to pay the legal costs of the application.

According to a report in The Star, Judge CH Nicholls lambasted the council’s attorney not only for attempting to get the order reversed, calling this “ill-conceived”, but also for “unbecoming behaviour and accusing the Hellenic Community of abusing the process of the court”.

Still? Why?

While the result is a clear 1-0 victory for the property owners, what needs to be asked is why the City of Johannesburg continues to have billing problems. There are doubtless thousands of people who are at the mercy of the council and, given reports that queries on outstanding amounts have been closed without the complainants’ knowledge, this is huge cause for concern. The age-old “pay now, query later” is not always an option as some of the billing errors run into thousands and thousands of Rands.

Unfortunately, the more the council insists that its billing system is under control, the more it becomes apparent that it’s not. In August last year the council delivered a pre-termination notice to the home of former president, Nelson Mandela. To the city’s embarrassment, it turned out that not only were the address and account number incorrect, the person for whom the notice was intended lived in a totally different suburb. At the time the city apologised to the Mandela family and stated that such errors were “occasional”.

While this statement is debatable, what has become apparent is that those who lack political clout certainly find it harder to get the council to listen. Hopefully the pain of a fine will encourage the council to not only listen to grievances, but will induce it to act more decisively when ordered to do so by the courts.

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