Corporate Bullies

In South Africa every household that owns a television set must, by law, purchase a licence every year. Businesses must have a separate licence for each TV set. A TV is defined as any electronic equipment that can receive a TV signal, so, for example, a VCR or PC equipped with a TV card are counted as TV sets and must be licensed. Failure to pay the licence fee is a criminal offense. The money thus raised is paid to the SABC, but not to other commercial broadcasters. I have argued elsewhere that the SABC licence fee is immoral; but this post is about the revolting, dishonest, thuggish bullying that the SABC and their collecting agencies use in an attempt to frighten consumers into paying licence fees that in many cases are not even owed.

Here’s an example from Complaints Board:

I sold our one and only TV set back in 1998 and informed the SABC accordingly in writing and attached the receipt from the buyer. Ever since (for more than 15 years) the SABC and their representatives continue ignoring even their own receipts, claiming fictitious balances and accusing, embarrassing, annoying, upsetting, discomforting, intimidating, threatening, frightening and bullying innocent people. As if that is not bad enough, VVM attorneys then require to submit irrelevant documentation! They are extremely incompetent and/or merely enjoy being useless. Meanwhile they expect people to pay licences for watching commercials which are interrupted by old films and ridiculous programmes which are repeated over and over again. PROUDLY SOUTH AFRICAN …

Attorneys acting for the SABC threaten people with legal action and listing on credit Bureaux if the hapless consumer doesn’t pay up. Here’s an example of an email sent by VVM Attorneys:

Dear Sir / Madam,


We hereby confirm that we act on behalf of our client, SABC.

You have been handed over to us due to your failure to pay your outstanding account with our client.

Our instructions are to demand from you, as we hereby do, payment of the outstanding amount of

R 2425.01. An immediate payment of no less than R2425.01 is required to avoid further action.

Despite numerous attempts to make contact with you, we have been unable to conclude a repayment agreement. Additional costs and/or penalties may have accumulated on your outstanding account, for which you are liable. Contact us urgently in order to set up an affordable repayment agreement.

Should you fail to adhere to the above, the following may occur:

Legal costs/penalties may accumulate on your account;
Legal action may be initiated, which action you may defend, should you have a valid dispute regarding this account;
Details of the non-payment of the account may be reported to the CREDIT BUREAUS by our client, which can adversely affect your credit rating
Payment must be made into the following bank account:

Bank Name: FirstRand Bank Ltd (FNB)

Bank Account Number: 62090802242

Branch Code: 255005

Bank Reference Number: 410129498

Alternatively, a credit card payment can be made online by going to:

The sooner you can settle this outstanding debt, the sooner your credit rating at various financial institutions will improve.

Please note: Instalment amount, balance figures and dates are correct as at time of sending this email. These figures are subject to change without notice.

Yours faithfully,



This is nonsense from top to bottom. Firstly, consumers do not have an account with the SABC; the TV licence is a tax, and consumers do not enter into any sort of agreement or contract with the SABC.

Failure to pay the licence fee is a criminal offense, and as such cannot be subject to civil sanction. If the SABC want redress, they have to lay a criminal charge against the consumer and then prove that he has broken the law. Their record-keeping is so incompetent and shambolic they will never in a million years be able to do that, so they resort to thuggery instead.

The threat of black-listing on credit bureaux is made, but it is an empty threat. I asked TransUnion whether or not they black-list people for non-payment of TV licence fees. This is their reply:

Thank you for sending through your question to us for comment.

In response to this, TransUnion, along with the other members of the Credit Bureau Association (CBA), have agreed to not accept the listing of SABC defaults.

I here offer the usual disclaimer that I am not a lawyer, and shall bear no responsibility for any damages you may suffer from following my advice, which is simply to ignore any threats from the SABC or their hired goons.

Like all bullies, they will go away when they see that their bullying does not work.

Creative Commons License
Grumpy Old Man by Mark Widdicombe is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-Noncommercial-No Derivative Works 2.5 License

15 Responses to Corporate Bullies

  1. Beechmount says:

    Any government agency that would attempt to require a person to have a licence for a TV here in Canada and anywhere else in the Americas would be lynched, hanged and burned. Poor fellows who have to pay to just even have a TV–ridiculous–absurd–BS.


  2. Con-Tester says:

    It must have been in the early 90s that the SABC first started with their churlish antics. At least that’s when they first decided to target me. I received a letter by ordinary post from them. It was replete with all manner of veiled threats of unpleasant sanctions that I could be subjected to in terms of some or other Act if I was remiss in obtaining “a valid TV licence” (which phrase was repeated several times at strategic points in the missive). The letter was a printed form letter, even down to the faux printed signature of the signatory who had some impressive-sounding title like “Head: Strategic Licensing Operations” or something similarly pompous.

    Since I have never owned any receiver that could, even by the loosest definition, be construed to be a television set, I felt annoyed by the SABC’s presumption and uncouth manner. (Here’s a hint: Con-Tester detests beyond almost anything else puffed-up cretins with delusions of significance. Do not trifle with him, especially if you’re a corporate lackey and you haven’t bothered to do your homework properly.) So, by way of a few strategic phone calls, I ferreted out the personal contact particulars of the signatory. I then composed a letter of my own, imitating the style, content and typeface of the SABC’s letter. However, I changed the sense to mean that demanding payment for a service neither requested nor utilised is theft/extortion/fraud, and pointed out that these are all illegal activities and punishable by imprisonment in terms of Common Law. I sent this letter to the signatory’s private address by registered post.

    After that I never heard from the SABC again.

    • Mark says:

      It seems to come in waves. I hired a TV to watch the 1996 world cup. I returned the TV after that. Now I get threatened by these cretins on almost a daily basis–once I got 32 emails in a single day!–for a while, then it tapers off again. They even target my girlfriend’s cellphone because she took over my contract. I’m seriously thinking of asking for the attorney’s name and laying a complaint against him at the Law Society, but it’ll probably only have the effect of drawing attention to myself. Ignoring them is possibly the best policy. I’ve trained my email spam filter to automatically delete anything from VVM, so I don’t see those anymore, but the SMSs are a drag.

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