Consumer rights versus privileges

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This week I was reminded of consumer rights versus consumer privileges by how much men in general take for granted what is supposed to be rights of privilege – and put forward the argument of “it is my right as a man”.
I have been travelling around the country for work in the past weeks, with little time to spend at home writing this column as I would like to. Because of my absence the first word my son, Captain Adorable, spoke was “Mamma”, instead of “Dadda”.

The cultural perception of the Namibian family is such that the “man of the house” is expected to earn the income even if it means travelling long distances from home, while the wife is expected to raise the children, earn an income and still be there to “spoil” her husband when he returns from his work far from home.

In Namibia, we have quite a few “rights of privilege”: from the white person born before independence who cannot understand why blacks do not stand up for themselves, to men who assert being man of the house but get upset when the woman insists upon her rights, and shopkeepers who have the attitude of you should be glad I am here to provide you with products to purchase.

It is not my intention to annoy anyone this week. Rather it is to have us question and get the understanding between “a right” and “a privilege”.

Rights are defined as something belonging to you as an individual and these cannot be taken away from you. In Namibia you have the right to freedom of speech and expression and this is guaranteed in the Constitution. A privilege on the other hand is something that is owned by another person or entity that then gives you the ability to do something. Owning a driver’s licence is a privilege that is granted to you by the government and can be taken away if you do not adhere to certain rules and regulations.

These are your consumer rights: You have the right to basic goods and services that guarantee survival; to be protected against the marketing of goods or the provision of services that are hazardous to health and life; to be protected against dishonest or misleading advertising or labelling; to choose products and services at competitive prices with an assurance of satisfactory quality; to express consumer interests in the making and execution of government policy; to be compensated for misrepresentation, shoddy goods or unsatisfactory service; to acquire the knowledge and skills necessary to be an informed consumer; and to live and work in an environment which permits a life of dignity and well-being.

• Milton Shaanika-Louw is a consumer activist and prolific blogger on consumer protection issues (http://milton-louw.blogspot.com). He serves as the voluntary director at Namibia Consumer Protection Group.

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