A gentlemen’s agreement is constituted by a handshake and a mutual understanding that each party would honour the agreement without any further written actions required. Such agreements would typically be based on trust.

Unfortunately, one cannot always count on honour and trust. As a result, many are paying a pretty penny to have a legal agreement typed out for a physical signature, hurdled with legal jargon and a hefty word count.

The Consumer Protection Act requires agreements to be drafted in a manner of simple language with the intention to set a landscape wherein all parties can understand the content. This is, however, not always the case and it remains a painful exercise for a layman to navigate between the dos and don’ts. This leads to many merely glancing over the contract without fully understanding what they are signing.

A familiar example would be when a person applies for a cell phone contract. Receiving your new device means that you would have to sign an agreement that would typically hold you financially responsible for about 24 to 36 months. Excitement may get the better of you and you might find that you have signed your name on the dotted line, without fully considering the fine print.

Much to your dismay, you soon come to learn that your new pride and joy turned out to be defective. When returning to the original store, you are rendered powerless by clauses preventing you from demanding a refund, as only a repair or a replacement is on offer. Livid, you storm out of the shop promising retribution in the most descriptive form.

Just as the supplier may protect their rights, it is also expected of you to read a contract. Do not leave this to chance.

When you enter a contract, it means that there is a meeting of the minds: a beautiful expression for when all parties agree and understand what is expected of them.

Before signing a contract, one should, therefore:

  1. Read the contract comprehensively.
  2. Make notes and mark any terms that you do not understand.
  3. Make notes of all terms that you do not agree with.
  4. Seek the input of a legal professional if you are in the position of seeking legal guidance.
  5. Document the terms that you do not agree on, including their written explanation or amendment. Do not make the mistake of listening to the explanation of a salesperson. In other words, do not simply accept a verbal explanation. When push comes to shove such verbal submissions would just be denied. Remember the salesperson will do everything they can to convince you to enter into such an agreement, as they receive a financial benefit from the sale.
  6. Steer clear of emotions. Inasmuch as you wish to conclude the purchase, remember not to rush into it.
  7. Refuse to sign if you are unsure or have a suspicion that it could be to your prejudice later if something goes wrong.


The fact of the matter is that ignorance of the law is no excuse. It is not a legal defence and for this reason, you have an obligation to ensure that you read and understand the terms and conditions of any agreement that you enter to its fullest extent. Always enter an agreement with diligence and effort to ensure that you never find yourself in a position where your rights are severely prejudiced. Contact your Legal Assist Line today to obtain a professional opinion first.


Written by Andries Cornelissen B. Proc, Practical Legal Training, Accredited and Certified Mediator, International Accredited and Certified Mediator London School of Mediation, Certified and Accredited Conflict Coach, Practicing Associate: The Association of Arbitrators, Certified and Accredited AHI Representative.