Johannesburg - The North Gauteng High Court in Pretoria on Thursday set aside a government notice which exempted low and medium capacity municipalities from having to comply with the Consumer Protection Act (CPA).
Ruling in favour of civil rights group AfriForum, Judge Margaret Victor set aside a government notice published in October 2011 by Trade and Industry Minister Rob Davies.
The ruling will become effective at the end of March.
The court ordered the minister to publish a notice by no later than July 31 listing each and every municipality which should not yet have to comply with the act.
Victor said municipal services were at the centre of the quality of life of all citizens. She made it clear that municipalities could not be exempted from having to comply with the act in perpetuity.
"There may be concerns that once the CPA applies to all, citizens would rush to enforce their rights. That cannot influence this court. The rights and concerns of consumers cannot be deferred indefinitely."
She said it was clear the minister faced a complex problem, particularly in relation to the entrenched rights of the consumer.
She emphasised there was a mechanism allowing the minister to determine which services were lacking and which municipalities could not comply with the act.
"The records show that municipalities are experiencing difficulties. It's therefore inexplicable why the minister could not list each and every municipality which requires deferment.
"Such a municipality must be mentioned in the notice and not form part of a global group. It is not a difficult task to compile a detailed list of a particular municipality and why it should be exempted from the act," she said.
AfriForum CEO Kallie Kriel welcomed the verdict.
"This is not only a victory for AfriForum, but for everyone in the country who is fed up with poor municipal service delivery."
He said AfriForum would closely monitor all future exemptions extended to municipalities, and the organisation would act if there were unfair exemptions.
"Residents are clients of municipalities, not their underlings.
Municipalities must respect the consumer rights of residents.
"The act, which affords consumers various rights when they do not receive goods or services for which they have paid, will now be a powerful weapon in the hands of taxpayers against non-performing municipalities," he added.
Follow Fin24 on Twitter, Facebook, Google+ and Pinterest.