Ru­n­away high prices make shop­ping a night­mare in SA

Weekend Argus (Saturday Edition) - - ISSUES -

I’VE JUST spent six weeks abroad and came home to the prover­bial empty cup­board – and a nasty pric­etag shock.

Last Thurs­day, I tried to stock my sin­gle-per­son fridge. I say “tried” be­cause I was stopped in my train­ers by the num­bers in­volved. I couldn’t be­lieve how much more ex­pen­sive ev­ery­thing had be­come in the rel­a­tively short time I was away. I got as far as the tea and cof­fee aisle, swal­lowed hard and left the shops in a daze – and emp­ty­handed.

In­ter­est rates con­tinue on the way down; the petrol price is a high­way from that night­mar­ish R10 a litre. But prices are not fol­low­ing suit. It seems fair to con­clude that some­body is laugh­ing all the way to the bank and it’s not me, nor any one I know.

Just a cou­ple of weeks ago, I went on a mini-spending spree in Paris and small town Ger­many.

I couldn’t be­lieve that – de­spite the ex­change rate – I could ac­tu­ally af­ford a very pop­u­lar ca­sual brand.

Back home, I can’t fork out the R350 for a T-shirt which costs a mere R130 in Europe. And let’s not even talk about the funky pants I pur­chased at a third of the price they go for in Cape Town. Or the hand-stitched, er­gonomic leather shoes. Or the cool sports train­ers. Yep, it was just so easy for this “poor African” to sup­port rich Euro­pean economies – the price was right.

For years South Africans were told price hikes were due, in large part, to the ris­ing petrol price.

When the fuel costs dropped, but prices stayed up, we were told petrol was only one el­e­ment in a much larger cost struc­ture.

Does the same ap­ply to the cost of bread now that the wheat price has dropped by much more than a third over the past year?

I can­not shake that nag­ging mem­ory of the Com­pe­ti­tion Com­mis­sion fin­ing Tiger Brands R98.7 mil­lion in Novem­ber 2007 for its role in col­lu­sion and car­tel prac­tices in the bak­ing and milling sec- tor. Come to think of it, in a sim­i­lar col­lu­sion in­ves­ti­ga­tion in the dairy in­dus­try one pro­ducer has al­ready paid R100 000 as a set­tle­ment fee af­ter the Com­pe­ti­tion Com­mis­sion in­di­cated the four largest pro­duc­ers, among oth­ers, ex­changed price in­for ma­tion.

A sim­i­lar probe took place in the steel sec­tor and into Sa­sol, which was fined just over R250m for an­ti­com­pet­i­tive be­hav­iour in the fer­tiliser in­dus­try in May this year.

Just be­fore I went abroad, the fi­nan­cial pages were filled with explanations of the high cost to con­sumers buy­ing in the for­mal mar­ket.

In sum­mary, the ar­gu­ment is that it will take a while yet for in­ter­est rate cuts and de­clin­ing food pro- duc­tion prices to fil­ter through the sys­tem.

One of the fre­quently stated rea­sons is that com­pa­nies con­cluded long-term agree­ments when prices were high, pre­sum­ably on the rather pes­simistic ex­pec­ta­tion that prices would con­tinue to go up.

Well the price con­sumers pay cer­tainly has.

Go­ing shop­ping is a night­mare, even for a mid­dle-class con­sumer with the time and enough petrol in the car to shop for bar­gains all across town. And one needs to be sharp to avoid pay­ing more than nec­es­sary.

Why is it that when I com­pare prices ac­cord­ing to the size/weight, very of­ten those prod­ucts without a brand la­bel seem to be more ex­pen- sive than the branded ones?

Last month I got my en­vi­ron­men­tally-friendly wash­ing pow­der at R54 at a na­tional re­tail store. Three weeks later I needed a re­fill, but the price was R64. That’s when I dis­cov­ered it was more worth my while to buy im­ported, en­vi­ron­men­tal­lyfriendly dish­wash­ing liq­uid than our do­mes­tic ver­sion. The “Made in the US” prod­uct, by the way, cleans bet­ter.

Ob­vi­ously com­pa­nies need to make a profit. But is it wrong to ex­pect the habitues of the board­room to take re­spon­si­bil­ity not only for fill­ing the pock­ets of share­hold­ers, but also for the well-be­ing of cit­i­zens?

My rather bour­geois tastes put me in a tiny – and priv­i­leged – per- cen­t­age of the pop­u­la­tion.

It’s even worse for the poor: the prices of bread, milk and maize, sta­ple foods for the over­whelm­ing ma­jor­ity of peo­ple, have soared. Warn­ings have been sounded about peo­ple, par­tic­u­larly chil­dren, be­ing on the verge of mal­nu­tri­tion as fam­i­lies cut down on food .

I can af­ford to cut down on food without com­pro­mis­ing ba­sic nutri­tion. I also have the time, petrol and cash to choose to shop at the fam­i­lyrun deli, fruit and veg shop and bak­ery, where su­pe­rior qual­ity is a mi­nor trade-off for slightly higher prices. Mil­lions of South Africans can’t. Per­haps it is time for con­sumers to en­gage in some “ser­vice de­liv­ery” protests.

Newspapers in English

Newspapers from South Africa

© PressReader. All rights reserved.