Couple told to pay more money for their honey

A gift of honey was anything but sweet for Valerie and Denis Brooks of Hout Bay.

“In October my son, David who moved to New Zealand sent me a gift of Manuka Honey. When it arrived at OR Tambo International in Johannesburg, the courier, DHL, asked me to pay a fee of R1 066, which included duty, tax and their disbursement fee of R150, but when I argued, they reduced it to R794.02, which I paid.

“Now customs want me to pay a penalty of R2 500 before DHL will release the parcel and send it to us in Hout Bay,” Ms Brooks told me.

She also sent the correspondence she received from DHL agents Cannie Mohapeloa, Kgomotso Mawasha and Glen Stephen to whom she wrote: “I cannot believe I am expected to pay R2 500 in addition to the initial request of R1 066. First SARS said there was no duty required, only tax, then when Kgomotso gave me the code he was using, SARS wanted a case number. Then DHL wanted an invoice as the receipt my son David sent wasn’t good enough so he had to get another from the New Zealand store, Mossop’s. And I am not prepared to pay the penalty.”

The correspondence I saw indicates that DHL regarded the Brooks as importers, and did not seem to understand the honey was a gift.

Mr Stephen told them: “It was your (the Brooks’s) responsibility to know the tariff code for the item(s) you are bringing into the country, and secondly, the documents needed by customs, and invoice, is your responsibility which is why you have to pay a penalty of R2 500. Kindly comply for us to finalise the case and get the consignment delivered.”

Please help, Ms Brooks asked me. People were already in holiday mode getting ready for Christmas, and besides, several numbers and addresses on the DHL website were out of date, and none of the DHL franchise holders I spoke to could tell me who to contact.

But there was an address where you could send complaints or compliments. So I sent off a message and hoped for the best. It didn’t take too long and I received a call and email from Ibrahim Refaie, acting CFO, who said his team would investigate and he promised to contact Ms Brooks.

Khanyi Mamba, his marketing and communications manager, would contact me when she returned from leave in January, he said.

Meanwhile Mr Refaie told me DHL would pay the penalty. And Ms Brooks confirmed it. “I had a call from DHL who said they are going to settle the amount with customs and will soon be dispatching the gift to me. They said they will be in touch with you again shortly. Thank you, Brian, for your intervention.”

But Mr Refaie’s message didn’t get through to his agents who sent Ms Brooks another demand for R2 500.

Eventually Cannie Mohapeloa told them: “As advised, the penalties will be paid this morning. As soon as we get the receipts we will forward them to customs for release”.

Ms Mamba said when shippers sign DHL’s terms and conditions, they acknowledge they are responsible for all charges, duties and taxes owed for services provided by DHL or incurred by DHL on the shipper’s or receiver’s behalf.

“Customs operates as a separate entity and DHL must comply with their governing regulations. Our employees can only disclose this fee once the shipment has arrived in country and the required VAT and duties have been determined by customs. However, we do provide guidance to our customers on where you can find the information you need about duties and other charges,” Ms Mamba said.

“We cannot comment on details as it is ‘client confidential’, however we are assisting the customer and have been communicating with them directly. Customs operates as a separate entity and DHL must comply with their governing regulations. Any delays incurred are regrettably out of our control,” Ms Mamba explained.

I am not sure why it’s “client confidential”. DHL is not a bank and Mr Refaie had already told me they would pay the penalty for Val Brooks, who received her honey recently. “Except one of the jars is leaking,” said Ms Brooks who complained to DHL about it. Somehow I don’t think they will replace it.

David (Brooks) sent his parents two 500g bottles of honey, at NZ $66.70 each; a 250g packet of bee pollen NZ $37.90; and Nectarese plus honey NZ $41.80 amounting to NZ$213.10, which at the prevailing exchange rate is about R2 246.

Manuka Honey, which comes from the Manuka plant in New Zealand, is reputed to have healing properties, according to some stockists I spoke to.

You can use it if you’re diabetic; have digestive ailments; high cholesterol and to put on cuts, they said.

Ask your doctor for advice before you rush to buy this “cure-all”.

Anyway he would have to treat you for shock when you find out how much it costs. The price for a 400m bottle of Manuka Honey varies from as high as R770 to a low of R670.