Rapula Moatshe and Bongani Hans
Social justice activist King Sibiya has vowed to fight against South Africa’s banking sector for as long as he lives, to get justice for homeowners whose properties are repossessed and sold for next to nothing.
Sibiya is the leader of the Johannesburg-based activist group, Lungelo Lethu Human Rights Foundation, which for years has been at the forefront of fighting for the rights of homeowners who face eviction by the banks for defaulting on their monthly bond payments.
In 2018, the foundation cited in court papers, in the South Gauteng High Court, that a woman known as Mapule Molokomme was aggrieved after her home was sold at auction for only R10. The new owner then went on to sell the property for a bigger profit.
Sibiya said: “Our courts are not on our side. They are on the banks’ side. There is no judge who can order that a house should be sold for R10, but that has happened before in our courts. Something is not right. There have been properties sold even after the banks issued letters that they were paid up. The banks often justify the situation by saying that it was caused by an error within the banking system.
“How do you address it? A person has lost his property but you are telling him that it is an error within the bank’s system.”
Over the years, Lungelo Lethu has attended to more than 1 000 cases, mostly involving defaulting clients who only discovered that judgment had been made against them when the new owner arrived to move into the property.
Sibiya advises homeowners to attend to summonses for defaulting as soon as they receive them. “The majority of cases lost are default judgments. It means the courts took decisions in the absence of these people and they never had an opportunity to speak for themselves in court. The only time when a person would realise they no longer have a property is when somebody comes one day and says I bought this property on auction on such and such a date. And that situation causes black-on-black violence. That’s our dilemma.”
Sibiya questioned the court processes and decisions taken in the absence of implicated homeowners. “I am saying that it appears as if the courts are colluding with the banks. If the courts are independent, why is it that if the banks bring in an application that a house should be sold for R10, they don’t do their investigation? The critical question becomes: What is the implication of that lawful judgment to evict a person because that person is going to end up being homeless?”
He further bemoaned the fact that there were very few people challenging the banks.
“We are on our own. There are so many legal resources in the country, but not even one that I know of is challenging the banks,” he said.
Meanwhile, Sekunjalo Investment Holdings chairperson, Dr Iqbal Survé, also called on victims of exorbitant bank interest rates, who are suffering because of the repossession of their properties by banks, to join his class-action suit against South Africa’s banking cartel, instead of suffering in silence.
Survé said this during an interview with an online discussion platform, Insight Factor, which broadcasts throughout the world through its Twitter account.
He said those who had lost their homes and cars through repossession, as a result of unaffordable interest rates on bonds and credit loans, should join the class-action suit being led by Gardee Godrich Attorneys.
By February, more than 6 000 people had joined the proceedings instituted by Survé and 42 others at the Western Cape Equality Court. The alleged victims are people who have been overbilled on interest on their mortgages, while others have had their bank accounts arbitrarily terminated due to their purported reputational risk to the banks.
The Ombudsman for Banking Services, in 2020, received more than 7 000 complaints against the banks which, according to its annual report, “was a significant increase in cases for most banks from 2019 to 2020”. Of those cases, 7% were about car finance and 8% for mortgage finance. The report did not categorise cases according to the race of the complainants.
Sibiya further said he was also fighting against the banks’ 20-year mortgage contract, saying it was unjustifiable. “It doesn’t make sense. I have asked since 2014: Who came up with this concept? And no one has been able to answer me.
“It means this thing must be abolished. Research shows that a bond can be paid up within nine years. If I can borrow R1 million and pay it up in five years, why can’t I do the same with the house?”