JOHANNESBURG, An increasing number of South Africans have fallen into the debt trap which has been made worse by the increase in the general cost of living, says a debt counsellor, Wendy Monkley.

For many of these people, debt stands in the way of achieving true freedom, she said here Wednesday as the country celebrated Freedom Day to mark the country’s first democratic elections in 1994.

“It has been 22 years since we stood united as a nation at the country’s first non-racial elections, and we now stand united again, but this time with one common enemy that enslaves all races and income groups, and prevents us from achieving true freedom. This enemy is debt,” said Monkley.

The latest quarterly report released by the National Credit Regulator (NCR) showed that South Africans were burdened by personal debt which left them trapped with nowhere to turn, except for acquiring more debt, she said.

“Statistics show that there are close to 24 million credit-active South Africans. Ten million of them are in arrears on their accounts or are struggling to pay their monthly debt repayments. There has been a major uptick in the number of consumers inquiring about and signing up for debt counselling.”

April has been a tough month with increases in fuel, electricity, interest rates, sin tax, food and transport costs, adding more woes to consumers.

Monkley advised indebted South Africans to review their finances by drawing up a budget and taking control of their expenses.

“If you can’t make ends meet and can’t see a way out, ask for help by contacting your credit providers for a reduced payment plan. If you still can’t make ends meet, contact a debt counsellor to assist.”