Get ready for the big squeeze

The cost of liv­ing is soar­ing as tough times loom. South Africans tell us how they’re cop­ing

CityPress - - News - SIZWE SAMA YENDE sizwe.yende@city­press.co.za

Although Elvis Mg­wenya (48) is a teacher with 21 years’ ex­pe­ri­ence, he has to sell snacks and pen­cils to his pupils to make ends meet. He also buys and sells clothes. Mg­wenya is the sole bread­win­ner in his fam­ily, which in­cludes his un­em­ployed wife, Di­makatso Maseko, and six chil­dren, aged 21, 14, 11, nine, eight and six. Be­sides them, he also of­ten has to give fi­nan­cial as­sis­tance to his 62-year-old mother, who is on a state pen­sion, and his two un­em­ployed adult sib­lings.

Mg­wenya teaches Grade 5 so­cial sciences and life skills at the Lekazi Pri­mary School in KaNya­mazane out­side Mbombela, but his fam­ily is based in Green Vil­lage, Soweto.

Like many other first-gen­er­a­tion mid­dle class South Africans, Mg­wenya is buck­ling un­der the pres­sure of the coun­try’s tough econ­omy. He has had to tighten his belt con­sid­er­ably and has been forced to be­come en­tre­pre­neur­ial.

“I am for­tu­nate that there’s no pol­icy pre­vent­ing me from selling to the pupils, oth­er­wise my sit­u­a­tion would be worse,” said Mg­wenya.

“I had to down­grade my car from a Ford Ranger to a Nissan Mi­cra two years ago be­cause the big­ger car cost R1 300 for a full tank [of petrol] to visit my fam­ily twice a month. The smaller car’s full tank costs R410, but I’m now trav­el­ling to my fam­ily once a month,” he added.

Mg­wenya’s cut­backs have ex­tended be­yond en­ter­tain­ment and nice-to-haves – he’s had to stop tak­ing his chil­dren to the movies when he goes home, has can­celled the fam­ily’s DStv sub­scrip­tion and cut off their land­line phone.

But he’s also had to scrimp on essen­tials – gone is the fam­ily’s med­i­cal aid, which be­came un­af­ford­able when it in­creased from R1 600 to R3 000 a month.

Mg­wenya’s gen­eral costs a month are: R3 300 for his mort­gage, R3 000 for food, R2 400 on car re­pay­ments, R600 for elec­tric­ity, R700 for wa­ter and R580 for school fees.

“I spend noth­ing on en­ter­tain­ment … I just go to church,” he said.

Mg­wenya is now plan­ning to make a ca­reer change to earn more money.

He has a se­nior teach­ing diploma, a higher diploma in ed­u­ca­tion and an hon­ours de­gree in ed­u­ca­tion, law and pol­icy.

But he’s now study­ing to­wards a law de­gree through Unisa in the hope of im­prov­ing his fi­nan­cial sit­u­a­tion by find­ing a job in a pro­fes­sion that will pay bet­ter.

“Teach­ing does not pay and I’m ex­pected to re­tire at 60. With law, I can go on for as long as I like,” he said.

He also has an in­ter­est in farm­ing and is ex­plor­ing ways to ven­ture into that sec­tor.

“The an­nual in­creases we get don’t make any fi­nan­cial im­pact on my bud­get. The cost of liv­ing is ris­ing higher than my salary in­cre­ments,” said Mg­wenya.

Elvis Ng­wenya with his fam­ily (left to right) Di­makatso Maseko, Ter­cia and Glo­ria Mg­wenya. The chil­dren on the floor are (right to left) Sinethemba, Maria and Siyabonga Mg­wenya

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