High food costs continue to hurt low-income group
THE household food baskets for Durban, Cape Town and Pietermaritzburg increased marginally this month by R31.87, R51.28 and R12.04, respectively, while those for Joburg and Springbok declined marginally by R28.45 and R21.03, respectively, according to the Household Affordability Index compiled by the Pietermaritzburg Economic Justice and Dignity Group (PMBEJD).
The PMBEJD said yesterday that high food prices continued to hurt low-income families and removed nutritious food from the plate, while making families, particularly women – because women eat last and sacrifice their nutritional needs for the sake of their families – and children, because children need highly nutritious foods to develop properly, more vulnerable to disease.
PMBEJD programme co-ordinator Mervyn Abrahams said although they welcomed what appeared to be a greater commitment by the government to provide relief to households, workers and small businesses, it still seemed they were trying to get blood out of a stone.
“Given the reality on the ground, it is unlikely that the relief measures announced by the president will be enough to prevent hunger and to quell civil disorder and put South Africa firmly on a path to recovery,” said Abrahams.
The food price data for the July 2021 Household Affordability Index was collected in the first week of this month. This was before the civil unrest, which started on July 11 in Pietermaritzburg, Durban and Joburg. From July 11, many of the supermarkets and butcheries in Durban and Joburg were looted, and supply chains to supermarkets in Pietermaritzburg were severely disrupted.
The data in the July index for Pietermaritzburg, Durban and Joburg would not reflect the prices in supermarkets now. The PMBEJD said the next data cycle, which starts from the first week of next month, would reflect the impact of the unrest on food prices.
According to the PMBEJD, the past few weeks have shown how targeted agitation and poor policing have exposed the sheer economic desperation of people, and the vulnerability of state security and its ability to protect private property.
“We argued last month that in the minds of ordinary people the right of hungry people to exist and to survive will become more important than any right of an individual or company to hold private property,” it said.
Although it appeared that security had been restored for now, the conditions on the ground, which provided fertile ground for unrest, had not improved, it said.
“Instead they have been worsened with the loss of life, the loss of jobs, the disruptions in the food value chains, the loss of local supermarkets, the greater transport costs incurred of sourcing food, the longer queues to get into supermarkets, which curtail the ability of women to first seek the cheapest prices before buying, and the hikes in food prices at supermarket shelves. The threat to state security and private property by hungry, desperate and angry people is still very much alive,” it said.
The group said nearly every supermarket where women living on low incomes did their shopping, and which the PMBEJD tracked, had been looted in Joburg and Durban and would take time to reopen.
Finding new shops that specifically target the low-income market and where items were reasonably affordable, meant a long trip in a taxi further from where people lived and long queues to get into the supermarket – with an average of up to six hours waiting outside to go in and three hours inside waiting to pay at the till.
In some areas – for example, KwaMashu in Durban – no shops have reopened and no cheaper supermarkets were close by.
“Women are telling us that they will have to travel far even to shop in the more expensive supermarkets of Checkers, Spar or Pick n Pay in wealthier areas. These shops are much more expensive than the supermarkets women normally shop in. Women are already telling us that prices in the supermarkets that have been able to reopen and the new supermarkets which women must travel long distances to get to are ‘already unbelievably much higher’ than the prices were before the unrest,” the group said.