Nyanga man’s salary slashed to pay for furniture he says he never bought

Odwa Vryman is fighting to stop deductions from his salary for a furniture debt he says he knows nothing about. Photo by Mary-Anne Gontsana.

Mary-Anne Gontsana

12 March 2015

A Nyanga man has had more than R1,000 deducted from his salary every month since September 2013, to pay for furniture which he says he never bought.

“I am at a loss and I don’t know what to do now,” says Odwa Vryman from KTC in Nyanga. “I feel I have tried everything. There is so much confusion in my life about this whole thing, I don’t know what is happening.”

Vryman works for the Smollan Group in Milnerton, earning a salary of R3,485 a month.

His nightmare started in June 2013 when a man named Carlo Pienaar came to his house in KTC.

“He said he was sent with regard to the money I owed to Joshua Doore, Price n Pride and Russells. He asked that we go and speak in his car. I went with him to his car and he told me about the debt and said he had been sent by Flemix. Then he gave me papers that he said I needed to sign. He did not explain to me what was written in the papers and I did not read them because I couldn’t understand. I signed the papers. Then he gave me a copy and left,” said Vryman. Correspondence in GroundUp’s possession shows that Vryman is paying off a debt for goods bought from Joshua Doore and Price n Pride.

According to the documents handed to Vryman, Pienaar is a tracer doing contract work for S De Witt & Associates of Bellville. The documents he gave Vryman to sign included letters of demand from lawyers Flemix & Associates, a notice of default on a debt of R11,487.55, an acknowledgement of debt, and a consent to jurisdiction - agreeing that the magistrate’s court of Hankey would have jurisdiction over the matter.

In September 2013, he noticed he had been paid less than usual. His salary slip showed that R1,300 had been deducted from his salary as “garnishee” - an emoluments attachment order

“I didn’t even know what that meant so I went to Human Resources at work to ask them about it. I was told that a court order had been received telling my employer to deduct the money that I supposedly owe. I have never in my life opened any account with any furniture store.”

“I have gone to these stores to tell them about this mistake and I found out that even though their records showed that I, Odwa Vryman with the same ID number, opened the account, the address where this furniture was delivered and where this ‘Odwa’ apparently stays is in Khayelitsha. I have never lived in Khayelitsha. I live in KTC where I grew up. I don’t even know Khayelitsha that well,” says Vryman.

“I don’t know how this could have been done, I have never even lost my ID book.”

He says he has been “back and forth” seeking help. He has made sworn affidavits at the Gugulethu and Mitchells Plain police stations. He has spoken to his employers and he has approached LegalWise. But to no avail: every month since September 2013, at least R1,000 has been deducted from his salary to repay the “debt”. To date he has paid at least R17,000, nearly one-and-a-half times the initial debt, which appears not to be his.

Vryman’s line manager, Abdurahman Allie, said, “I know about Odwa’s problem and I have tried to help by contacting lawyers and such but so far nothing has worked. His situation is still the same.”

Simone Louw of the benefits department at Smollan Group confirmed that the company had received a court order to deduct money for debt owed to a furniture store. She referred GroundUp to Flemix & Associates.

Vryman’s legal counsellor from LegalWise, Saloshini Govender, said the difficulty with Vryman’s case was that he had signed the documents given to him, acknowledging a debt.

“But Mr Vryman says that he did not know what he was signing because it was not explained to him and he did not understand. So now, because Mr Vryman says he did not enter into any agreement with the creditors, we have requested that Flemix attorneys provide us with the original document of the agreement that Mr Vryman had with these creditors. I have advised Mr Vryman that this will likely be a long process but I am very optimistic, because when I spoke to the attorneys, they assured me that they were in the process of looking for the agreement,” said Govender.

Correspondence from LegalWise to Flemix goes back to at least January 2014. LegalWise informed Flemix that they were acting against the wrong debtor. There is correspondence between Flemix attorney Amanda de Beer and LegalWise, but over a year later Flemix has not resolved the matter.

De Beer committed to responding to GroundUp’s request for comment, but had not done so by the time of publication, which was delayed to give Flemix more time.

Flemix is at the centre of a case before the Western Cape High Court in which 15 consumers are trying to have their emoluments attachment orders declared illegal.

The action was brought on behalf of the University of Stellenbosch’s Legal Aid Clinic (LAC) and 15 consumers against 13 credit providers and Flemix. Respondents includes the Minister of Justice and Correctional Services, the Minister of Trade and Industry and the National Credit Regulator. The case is a constitutional challenge to some of the provisions in the Magistrates’ Courts Act dealing with emoluments attachment orders.

Lawyers for the consumers have called for Flemix to be reported to the Law Society. Among other things, they have questioned the use by Flemix of courts in smaller towns, including Hankey, in order to get the attachment orders.