Suicides mount as debt despair sets in
SUIC1DE rates, particularly among retrenched South African men, are rising because of despair over spiralling debt, say fmancial and telephone helpline counsellors.
Divorce rates are also climbing as married couples lose their homes after defaulting on bond repayments, or simply buckle under the pressure of school fees, medical-aid, and car and house instalments.
South Africans owed banks more than R14 bfflion in mortgages at the end of January, according to the National Credit Regulator And the number of those who have applied for debt review is soaring.
"Many men in their 40s and 50s who have lost their jobs in recent months are calling us for help and counselling," said Zane Wilson of the South African Depression and Anxiety Group (Sadag).
"People wait until they are quite far along before they call us. We have seen an increase in the number of calls and we have seen more suicide attempts," said Wilson.
The number of those who have applied for debt review grew by almost 7 000 last month to top more than 51 000 in total, said the NCR.
A financial consultant said she had seen "more divorces and suicides than I care to mention" in recent months as people lost their homes at sale in execution auctions because they had defaulted on bond repayments. She said that individual homeowners often suffered huge losses through such auctions.
The pressure on consumers is such that banks remain wary about the extent of the relief that future interest-rate cuts might bring.
It has been reported that some banks are repossessing fewer houses because of the difficulty of selling them in the present market.
Economists predicted an upturn in investor confidence after last week's announcement by Tito Mboweni, the Reserve Bank governoi of a one percentage point drop in the interest rate. But this was not expected to save those people already receiving debt counselling.
Levels of anxiety continue to rise among bondholders, with many reporting difficulty getting banks to accept deals made through debt counsellors for repaying arrears.
One mother-of-two, who has defaulted on her bond with Absa, recently told how her bank had refused to accept an offer made by her debt counsellor, saying the amounts were too low "I don?t know what to do anymore. School fees need to be paid, our children need to be fed, and we need to pay ofT our other debts," she said. "If this carries on and they continue to insist that we pay more on the bond every month than we can afford we are going to lose everything."Reacting to the news of a predicted interest-rate cut by the Reserve bank, First National Bank said it expected consumers would use the. cut and future reductions to repair their personal balance sheets.
Standard Bank said while the interest rate cut would assist many, the tighter economic environthent would see consumers continuing to face strong headwinds.
Consumer Assist reported this month that banks were repossessing fewer houses, rethinking their strategy because they had realised that unoccupied houses did not sell quickly because of the property slump and the fact that thieves stripped them bare.
A financial consultant, who asked not to be named for professional reasons, said that while she had sympathy for the situation most banks found themselves in, there were now more houses going up for auction than ever before.
"To me that is an indication that the banks are less accommodating than before," said the consultant.
She had found that Absa, Standard Bank and SA Home Loans were more accommodating to defaulting clients, often suggesting that people sell their houses through private auctions as these were better advertised than the sale in execution auctions conducted by the sheriffs.
"The offers realised at the private auctions are a lot higher than those at the execution auctions. The worst about these execution auctions is the fact that there are no reserve prices and whatever offer is being made is accepted, with absolutely no regard to the losses suffered by individuals," she said.
"I've had people who were in arrears for only two months being treated exactly the same as people who haven't paid their bonds for more than a year," she said.
Nedbank and Standard Bank confirmed a sharp increase in defaults, attributing this to the economic downturn and higher interest rates. FNB said only 2 percent of its bond holders were in arrears.
-Sadag can be contacted on 0800 121314.