South Africa is a funny place sometimes.
Undermine our democracy and capture the state, building a criminal enterprise second to none, and you can jet off to Dubai and throw lavish R100 million weddings, whilst workers at the mines you own go unpaid.
Head to Builders Warehouse with a hinge you bought, in order to ensure that you buy the identical product again to fit the rest of your house, and you can land up being arrested and charged with shoplifting.
That’s what happened to Capetonian Rose Kotze, in a nightmare tale that starts on December 19 of last year. Her story was covered on TimesLIVE by consumer advocate Wendy Knowler:
…a roving security camera happened to capture her putting her R100 pack of door hinges back into her handbag.
She had taken it out a minute or two earlier – before the camera happened to settle on her – and was holding it up to a number of hinges on display to find a perfect match. She didn’t find one, so she put that pack back in the basket, and then, a second later, remembering that she’d already paid for it, she took it out of the basket and put it back in her handbag.
To the security personnel and store management, who had no footage of Kotze removing that pack from her handbag, that looked like a slam-dunk act of shoplifting.
Totally oblivious that she’d been marked as a thief, Kotze and her boyfriend went on to choose and pay for R1,500 worth of goods in that store. But as they stepped out, a security guard stopped her and asked her to accompany him to the manager’s office.
At this point, security stopped Kotze and accused her of theft, and she was locked into a room with a security guard.
Let’s look at the hinge that caused all the drama:
Yes, it’s a butt hinge – as in, “but I didn’t f*cking steal it!”
Her boyfriend went home to find the receipt for the hinge she was accused of stealing, and here’s where things really go south:
Kotze had kept all the receipts from their twice-weekly shops in that store in the previous three months while they renovated their new home, totaling more than R40,000.
The manager refused to budge, saying the receipt proved nothing, she said.
Kotze was photographed, banned from all Massmart stores, and handed over to the police. She was arrested, taken to the local police station, fingerprinted and released on bail late that afternoon.
“I was traumatised and very, very angry”” she said. “I lay on my bed and cried for a couple of days.”
That seems like a fair enough reaction, really.
Kotze appeared in the Wynberg Magistrate’s Court shortly afterwards, with her attorney attempting to have the case thrown out.
The prosecutor obtained a postponement until Valentine’s Day, in order to obtain further video footage. When February 14 rolled around, the prosecutor again pushed for a postponement, citing the same reason, but finally sanity prevailed:
[Kotze’s] lawyer objected on the grounds that they’d had more than enough time to do so…
The attorney then showed the senior public prosecutor her receipt for the allegedly stolen pack of hinges; images of three of the four packs bought that day having been installed on doors in her flat, and an affidavit from her boyfriend.
The case was withdrawn, but Kotze was out of pocket for the legal representation she was forced to hire, as well as having suffered emotional trauma.
Seeking advice on how to go about rectifying this, Kotze posted this thread to Twitter, which eventually attracted the attention of Builders Warehouse.
Finally, somebody from the business stepped up:
And further steps in the right direction were taken:
TimesLIVE reports that those talks involved talk of compensation, with the company saying:
“In our view, we let her, and ourselves, down by not being more responsive and empathetic to her situation.
“But we have tried to learn from her experience and are in the process of re-looking at our in-store loss prevention procedures. For example, perhaps where a customer indicates that they have proof of purchase for a product – albeit not with them – we can allow a reasonable time for the customer to arrange for a third party to bring the proof of purchase into the store before we rush off to report the incident to the South African Police Service.
“This certainly would have made a tangible difference in Ms Kotze’s case.”
The company has agreed to pay her legal expenses and lift the ban on her entering their stores, and further compensation is being negotiated.
“But I still want my pack of hinges back!” Kotze said. “I’m glad that my incident has led to them reconsidering their procedures.
Still, it’s not exactly a happy ending:
First, they joined Facebook, and we let it happen. Then they came for Instagram and Twitter, and it was too late.
Kotze says that the lesson to be learnt here is declaring your product to security on your way into the store, or photographing the product to ensure you buy the same.
We’ll assume Builders Warehouse have learnt their lesson, too.
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