Editorial: Grapple garnishee ghoul

If the full extent of the indebtedness and the desperation of the miners in Marikana needed further illustration, then research revealing a corrupt and dysfunctional garnishee order system has brought home the full horror of the debt cycle.

Endless stories are recounted by garnishee administration companies about staff members going home empty-handed on payday, or of workers moving from one mine to another to stay ahead of the orders. Then there are the staff who are paying debts that have long been cleared, or incorrectly assigned, and who are paying administrative costs and interest that are ­blatantly illegal, ensuring that they remain trapped by debt for years to come.

The University of Pretoria was sufficiently concerned five years ago to carry out a study into what it called the "undesirable practices relating to garnishee orders". Sadly, its ­recommendations regarding changes to the Magistrate's Act and increased training for court clerks have not been heeded, and flawed orders are still being rubber-stamped.

The problem is that those members of the population with the most garnishee orders are not well educated and are poorly informed about their rights or the impact of the high levels of interest that are charged.

Little has been done in terms of legislative control, or meaningful review and oversight by professional bodies such as the Law Society of South Africa or government. The treasury recently signed a deal with the Banking Association of South Africa to ensure that banks will no longer use ­garnishee orders against credit defaulters.

It's a promising initiative, but it's clear that a lot more needs to be done to increase oversight and control relating to collection agencies, attorneys and court clerks – and it needs to be done soon. 

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