Women from low-income families forced to wait in long queues outside supermarkets

The spread of the coronavirus disease (COVID-19) in Cape Town

The spread of the coronavirus disease (COVID-19) in Cape Town

Published Apr 29, 2020


CAPE TOWN - Women from low income families from different parts of South Africa say the long queues outside supermarkets mean they have to wait anything from 45 minutes to six hours to get into supermarkets.

This was according to the Pietermaritzburg Economic Justice & Dignity (PEJD) organisation, which monitors food price increases for low income families in Pietermaritzburg every month, but which last week also talked to women in Johannesburg and Durban, and some smaller more rural towns in Northern KZN and Northern Cape.

The non-government organisation’s director Mervyn Abrahams said yesterday (tue) that the thoughts that women in Pietermaritzburg had were reflected in other parts of South Africa. 

The women said they feared what the situation would be like on busy shopping days, such as on May 4, the delayed government pension pay-out-day.

Supermarkets were only letting a few shoppers in at a time: some 15, some 20, some 50.

Social distancing outside supermarkets did not work effectively.

According to the women interviewed, you might start off well by being 2 meters away from your fellow shopper, "but after a few exhausting hours in the queue, you just want to get into the supermarket."

“Waiting in a queue where the line snakes around corners and you cannot see the entrance, where you are on top of everyone, and when it is blisteringly hot or shatteringly cold, is frustrating and exhausting and it makes you very agitated,” Abrahams said.

Women were also concerned that street traders were not on the streets.

Women typically buy vegetables, fruits and eggs, amongst other things domestic and personal hygiene products, from street traders.

Street traders allow women to buy food in relation to how much money they have, such as, for example, R10s worth of tomatoes; they are also able to haggle with the trader, and the quality of the potatoes in that brown paper pocket can be checked, which they cannot do in the supermarket.

Street traders also offer a service – women leave their packets with them as they go and find other foods and meat. Not being on the street means that women have to use the supermarket storage counters – here again the queues are long, Abrahams said.

Women were also concerned with the transport regulations during lockdown –  taxis start operating at around 4am and stop at 10am, before starting again in the afternoon.

“For most women who still do their shopping in CBDs, it means they must finish shopping before 10am if they are to catch the last taxi home. Missing this taxi means waiting with 

perishable foods until the afternoon. Imagine what that 5kg bag of frozen chicken portions looks like after 6 hours in the sun,” he said.

The consequence of these regulations was that there was a rush to get into a taxi as early as possible, so taxis were also “very full”.

It also meant women were price takers in supermarkets. The restricted times and long queues meant they had to buy their grocery list in just one supermarket, and one butchery, and their food baskets were more expensive at the very time when household income had dropped, the PEJD said.

The food price increases in Pietermaritzburg were “considerable” and reflected a 7.8 percent or additional R250 cost on a basic basket of core staple foods over the past two months, which, “for families living on low incomes is a serious financial shock,” said Abrahams. The basket on April 23 was priced at R3 473.

Women were concerned that with projected job losses, the staggered return of workers to employment, and with the small bits of top-ups on the grants, and the physical distancing at supermarkets restricting their strategy to shop for the cheapest prices across several supermarkets: that May was going to be a very hard month, said Abrahams.

In most low income households food starts running out between the second and third week of every month.

With the lockdown, food had run out quicker.

“Now, at a time when families are in an even more unbearable situation than normal; Sassa pushed back the grant pay-out date to the 4th and 6th of May. Children are getting hungry, and for every child that is hungry know that women are even hungrier because women sacrifice their own nutritional needs for their families,” said Abrahams.


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