Supermarket claims Utrecht Municipality inspections were unprofessional

Estimated reading time: 7 minutes

The Emadlangeni (Utrecht) Municipality is defending itself against accusations of unprofessionalism and an unwillingness to communicate efficiently with the local business sector. This is after a Utrecht retailer stepped forward stating that the latest municipal inspections were everything but professional.

This follows the Emadlangeni Municipality conducting oversight visits at several businesses in Utrecht, KwaZulu-Natal, focusing on those trading in the Liquor, Retail and Trade industry. The main purpose of the inspections was to ensure all businesses are compliant and abiding by legal requirements.

This involved checking if the said businesses had the respective licences and if no expired goods were being sold.

According to the Utrecht Municipality, the following departments were in attendance on the day:

Providing insight, the Municipality’s Head of Communications, Ayanda Mabaso stated that two businesses were not compliant as per the regulations required by the legal business unit. Additionally, “consumables which had reached their expiry dates were confiscated, and warnings issued to the traders of the consequences thereof if this continued,” he said.

However, allegations have surfaced that the government-comprised team did not conduct themselves accordingly, showing disdain to certain businesses they visited.

According to Nicolene van der Schyff, owner of Utrecht’s Big 5 Supermarket, the Municipal team were far from professional. “A group of over 20 people walked into the store, saying they were from the municipality, and they were at the store to inspect if there were any expired goods,” van der Schyff began.

With the situation already awkward, as there were customers in the store, van der Schyff explained things took a sour turn when the team started to remove several items from the shelves. These items, she pointed out, were not expired but had passed their best before dates.

“I asked them what the difference was, and I was told that it was exactly the same as expired. But none of the goods were actually expired,” she emphasised.

Adding fuel to the fire, the Municipal team allegedly threatened to close the store down if van der Schyff did not cooperate with them. When she asked further questions and demanded to speak to the police about the matter, van der Schyff stated that she was met by laughter from the municipal team.

Supporting this business owner’s argument, video footage has been supplied to the Newcastillian – Online News showing the “laughing incident”. With the team confiscating several food items, van der Schyff said she managed to stop them from removing cold drinks from the store.

“They had no right to remove the goods, as we paid for them. Nor did they have any documentation or IDs on them to prove their place of employment,” she highlighted.

Furthermore, Van der Schyff was met with further frustration, when the confiscated goods were taken to the Utrecht Dumpsite, buried and later dug up and taken by various people. This would render the entire exercise of removing expired goods for the sake of the community, pointless.

“This is the second time this has happened to our store, the last time being in September 2021. I understand that there will be a similar operation in August,” she added.

Frustrated about how the situation was handled, van der Schyff said she and her husband were now preparing to take legal action against the Emadlangeni Municipality—especially, as their store was threatened with closure.

Allegedly the store was closed for an hour, during which time van der Schyff and her husband had to go to the municipality to get the necessary approval to reopen.

Discussing the inspections, Simo Makhaye of the Emadlangeni Municipality’s LED Unit explained the inspections were not meant to be seen as the Municipality targeting businesses in the town.

“We need to ensure that businesses are compliant with the law, ensuring that food goods and liquor had not passed their expiry dates. Items such as foods, cold drinks and liquor that had expired, has to be taken to the landfill site, where a hole is dug and the goods then buried.”

The reasoning behind this, Makhaye explained, was that due to Business Act 71 of 1991 and the KZN Liquor Act (6/20210), expired goods could result in illness if consumed. Adding to this, he pointed out that both the business and Municipality could be taken to task if nothing was done to ensure these expired goods were removed.

Looking at the Big 5 Supermarket, Makhaye admitted that the supermarket owner was unhappy and that she initially refused to allow the stock to be removed from the store. Moreover, to avoid further agitation, Makhaye claimed that the team left the cold drinks in the store. “The store owner explained she would contact the supplier, and have it sent back. Some of the cold drinks’ expiry dates, dated back to 2021, which could have affected people.”

Additionally, Makhaye added that while the operation was fruitful, the business sector did show some reluctance toward the initiative.

“However, we will be doing education campaigns to educate them. We will also be aligning them with the necessary regulations and laws through an SME Indaba.”

With steps to be taken to ensure the business sector and the Emadangeni Municipality were on the same page, Makhaye said it was instrumental to remember that the initiative was not meant to target businesses negatively. “We want to help create a conducive environment and ensure there are no legal repercussions due to selling old goods that could potentially make people ill.”

In regards to the allegations made pertaining to the incident at the supermarket, the Emadlangeni Municipality stated, “The Municipality is very much aware of the inspections that took place on the 12 July 2022. The Municipality would like to state that the above allegations are unfounded and untrue.”  

The government entity stressed that all inspections done on the day were conducted in an approachable manner.

“The video footage in question was that of the Municipality Officials who were part of the inspectorate committee were having their own conversation, which might make the owner assume that they were being mocked. Present was also the South African Police Service who were invited to call order and ensure that no intimidation to all parties would arise,” explained the Emadlangeni Municipality.

Supporting the municipality’s argument, the government entity had the following to say; “The shop owner was requested to close the shop, as, during the inspections, it was found that the owner was operating without a Municipal Business Licence.”

Responding to the accusations of intimidation, the Municipality said that the shop owner was not intimidated in any manner. “They were, though, advised on the correct procedures as to apply for the Business License in order for them to continue trading under the Municipal Regulations. The owner has applied and has been approved, as presently she is still operational.”

Concluding, the municipality said that steps will be taken at the landfill site to ensure that no further confiscated items will be dug up. This includes the deployment of security guards.

Looking forward, the Municipality is currently formulating business bylaws, which will be gazetted and implemented for all those who have an interest in conducting business in the town.

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