Following a long period of downtime due to the national elections and the reconvening of parliament, President Cyril Ramaphosa has signed off a number of new pieces of legislation this week.
The legislation – some of which have been mooted for over a decade – will bring a number of major changes to South African workplaces, roads, and households.
BusinessTech looked at three of the biggest new laws below:
The president has signed the controversial Administrative Adjudication of Road Traffic Offences (Aarto) Bill into law.
The amendment act is expected to fundamentally change driving in South Africa, with some of the biggest changes including:
- Failing to pay traffic fines can lead to a block on obtaining driving and vehicle licences and an administrative fee – in addition to other penalties;
- Where documents previously had to be delivered by registered mail through the post office, in terms of the amendment, authorities will now also be able to serve documents electronically and can send reminders via WhatsApp and SMS;
- A new demerit system will be introduced. Depending on the severity of the offence, 1-6 points are allocated for offences. If an infringer has more than 12 points, it will result in the disqualification of the driving licence and three suspensions result in its cancellation;
- The establishment of a new Appeals Tribunal which will preside over issues that are raised under the new act.
Arguably the biggest change in the laws is the demerit system which aims to make South Africa’s roads safer by coming down harder on violators.
Depending on the severity of an offence, 1-6 points are allocated. If an infringer has more than 12 points, it will result in the disqualification of the driving licence and three suspensions result in its cancellation.
While the demerit system has been supported in theory, many organisations have argued that the lack of enforcement of current laws and capacity by traffic authorities means the new system will likely be ineffective in its goals.
Instead, the focus appears to be on revenue collection, the Automobile Association said, with other provisions in the act suited to making it easier for authorities to deliver fines and hold vehicle licence renewals to ransom over unpaid fines.
Civil action group Outa has said it will challenge the constitutionality of the act, adding that it fears it will be used to force motorists to pay e-toll fees in Gauteng through ‘fine print’ details like making it an offence to ignore road signs – which could include e-toll fees listed next to highways.
The new National Credit Amendment Act aims to provide relief to over-indebted South Africans who have no other means of extracting themselves from over-indebtedness.
Specifically, the act will allow certain applicants to have their debt suspended in part or in full for up to 24 months.
This debt may then be extinguished altogether if the financial circumstances of the applicant do not improve.
The criteria for meeting this debt write-off include:
- Where the unsecured debt is not more than R50,000;
- Where the unsecured debt was accrued through unsecured credit agreements, unsecured short term credit transactions or unsecured credit facilities only;
- Where the person earned no more than R7,500 a month over the last six months;
The act also introduces a number of new offences related to debt intervention.
Under the act, it will now be an offence for a person who intentionally submits false information related to debt intervention.
Any person who intentionally alters his or her financial circumstances, or persons who intentionally alter their joint financial circumstances, to qualify for debt intervention, will also be guilty of an offence.
The Banking Association of South Africa (Basa) made it clear that it does not support the principle of debt forgiveness – for very obvious financial reasons, but also for what it would do to the lending and credit industry.
Aside from the costs banks would incur writing off the debt, the most likely reaction from banks would be to make lending conditions much tighter which would make it more difficult for the poor to secure credit, Basa said.
Responding to the act, South African banks said they are concerned that some of their customers will get away with not having to repay their debt as a result of the new laws, with National Treasury estimating that it could result in the write-off of R13.2 billion to R20 billion of debt.
The new National Qualifications Framework Amendment Act aims to prevent South African individuals from misrepresenting their qualifications by allowing for the South African Qualifications Authority (SAQA) to establish and maintain separate registers for professional designations, misrepresented qualifications and fraudulent qualifications.
In addition to these new registers which will effectively ‘name and shame’ individuals who had been found to be holding fraudulent qualifications, the act also introduces harsh consequences for those who are caught lying about their achievements.
Under the new act, any person convicted of an offence is liable to a fine and/or to imprisonment for a period not exceeding five years.