Get ready for the big squeeze
The cost of living is soaring as tough times loom. South Africans tell us how they’re coping
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