Poverty comes at a high price

Weekend Argus (Sunday Edition) - - OPINION - Sher­lin Barends

ONE Marl­boro Be­yond Red cig­a­rette will cost you R2.50 at one of the su­perettes in Salt River. A pack of 20 will set you back R35. So you’ll pay R50 for a pack if you buy them one at a time – that’s an ex­tra R15 for 20.

“We sell loose items be­cause some of our cus­tomers can’t af­ford to by a pack of cig­a­rettes or 18 rolls of toi­let pa­per,” said the mid­dle aged shop­keeper with a black head­scarf.

Some cus­tomers are able to buy in bulk at the end of the month, while oth­ers buy as the money comes in. Not ev­ery­one earns a monthly salary. Some earn weekly or even daily wages. They are thank­ful that these lo­cal en­trepreneurs are aware of their needs and cater for them, al­beit at a cost.

One Belux toi­let roll costs R3.50, a Soft Feather R4 and a Twin­saver R5.50. “We charge a lit­tle ex­tra when sell­ing sin­gles. It’s a give and take sit­u­a­tion,” the shop­keeper said with an al­most apolo­getic smile, be­fore she helped the next cus­tomer.

It’s noth­ing per­sonal, it’s busi­ness. But what if busi­nesses and ser­vices are struc­tured in a way that keeps the poor im­pov­er­ished and per­pet­u­ates sys­tems and prac­tices that dis­ad­van­tage those who, each day, have just enough to sur­vive.

The shop is well stocked and busy. The shelves in the nar­row aisles are stacked with a wide va­ri­ety of goods, ev­ery­thing from canned food to fresh fruit and veg­eta­bles, mak­ing the com­pact shop feel even more tightly packed than it is.

A wo­man wear­ing an over­sized, blue DA T-shirt doesn’t have R16 to buy a six-pack of Price’s Can­dles. She puts a R10 note on the counter and leaves with three of the fluted

Though the lounge suite was more want than need, Ouma bought it on credit

white can­dles and R1 change. When she buys three more, she would have spent R18 on six can­dles. Poverty comes at a price and it isn’t cheap.

My late pa­ter­nal grand­mother, Ann He­lena Mag­dalena Barends, knew how to save. A slab of cho­co­late would last her a month: say. How­ever, when she ran out of milk, eggs or su­gar I’d be sent to our neigh­bour, Mrs Bru­in­tjies, to bor­row some essentials till the end of the week.

There was also the time Ouma re­placed her ugly, old, orange lounge suite with a brand new green one.

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