Small Claims court opens its doors in Khayelitsha

| Johnnie Isaac
Khayelitsha Community at the launch of Small Claims Court. Photo by Johnnie Isaac.

The Khayelitsha Community has been urged to use the small claims court to resolve financial disputes for amounts of up to R15,000. The court was relaunched on Friday. It was established in 2010, but never functioned.

The court will assist people dissatisfied with the quality of services they paid for and who want to reclaim money. The court will spare people from Khayelitsha having to travel to Wynberg to lodge their claims.

The relaunch was attended by government officials from the Department of Justice and Correctional Services, members of South African Police Service, the Legal Aid Board, City Council officials, members of the Khayelitsha community and several interest groups.

The consul general of Switzerland was also present as her country is funding the training of commissioners and clerks and the opening costs for new courts.

“Bring your disputes to court; no more beating each other over disputes about money or dragging each other to street committees,” Khayelitsha Regional Court manager Velile Yayi told the community.

Deputy Minister of Justice John Jeffrey also told residents to “make use of the small claims court instead of taking the law into your own hands”.

He said complainants did not need lawyers to bring disputes to the small claims court. The court has a commissioner listening to both sides before making a ruling. Jeffrey said the decisions of the court were as binding as any other court. He said individuals who failed to abide by its decisions will have their goods attached by the sheriff of the court.

From left to right Velile Yayi; Court Manager, Khayelitsha Magistrate Court, Mzukisi Dimbaza, Chief Magistrate of Western Cape, Linda Nyanga Chairperson of Small Claims Court Advisory Board, Adv Hishaam Mohamed: Western Cape Regional Head of Justice and Constitutional Development, John Jeffrey: Deputy Minister Justice and Constitutional Development, Henkeler Brown: Consul General of Switzerland Bruce Langa; Khayelitsha Regional Court President. Photo by Johnnie Isaac.

Jeffrey informed residents about procedures that needed to be followed when lodging a claim. A complainant must write a letter to the debtor and then approach the court to issue summons. Thereafter a date for the hearing is set. Complainants must ensure they bring all the supporting documents to the hearing.

Western Cape Chief Magistrate Mzukisi Dimbaza said even loan sharks are permitted to bring disputes when their debtors don’t pay. However, he warned about the amount of interest charged and said the court would not make a ruling for unreasonable claims.

About 195 Legal Aid lawyers are presiding as commissioners in various small claims courts. The courts use lawyers and magistrates from other courts. All commissioners work pro-bono after hours and on weekends.

Jeffery said government wants to establish such courts in every magistrate court in the court. He said the Western Cape has 35 small claims courts in 44 magistrate courts.

During question time residents welcomed the establishment of the court and asked questions about which disputes fell under the court’s jurisdiction. Some took the opportunity to raise issues of service delivery, crime and problems of gangsterism.

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