Editor’s View: South African consumers are under the cosh

A picture of a man holding an empty wallet.

Picture: Towfiqu Barbhuiya / Unsplash

Published Oct 18, 2023


South Africans are under immense pressure.

It used to be that we were only suffering a dearth of electricity and water; now it’s eggs, chicken and mushrooms.

The avian influenza, or bird flu, outbreak has severely impacted on the availability of chickens and eggs, sending prices skyrocketing. Eskom’s ongoing failure to provide stable power has led to an energy crisis that has affected the mushroom industry. And climate change has impacted potato stocks to the degree that a 10kg pocket can now fetch around R250.

On Wednesday morning, we got news that South Africa’s Consumer Price Inflation (CPI) index has risen for a second consecutive month, as healthcare costs increase along with the price of fuel.

Will we ever be able to catch a break?

Monday was World Food Day, and the folks at Shoprite had sent IOL a basket of goods*. Literally a Shoprite basket loaded with grocery items: soap, mealie meal, oats, flour, oil, long-life milk, spaghetti, rice, peanut butter, a loaf of bread, and a pack of tea bags, among a few others - most of them Shoprite’s Ritebrand goods.

It’s great to see retailers doing their best to provide marked-down house-brand essential items as a way to relieve some of the pressure on consumers.

This basket cost R387.89.

That’s not bad considering what other retailers are charging.

Now, I’m not that old. But I recall a time when that was the cost of a loaded trolley. This is not an indictment on Shoprite. The cost of living has really just skyrocketed recently.

I gasped when, the last time I did a monthly shop, my trolley topped R2,000. Bear in mind, this was a while ago. We simply can’t afford to do a monthly shop anymore, and now just work from week to week.

And I’m among the privileged; there are many South Africans who are not even able to live from pay cheque to pay cheque.

Now, we may not have yet gotten to that point, but in other countries that have experienced high inflation and cost of living crises, there have been riots in the streets.

As the cost of basic foodstuffs increase, people look for bargains, and often find them by buying expired, unsafe, or even fake food products.

This endangers lives.

I saw a TikTok the other day of someone who had opened a tin of beans to find nothing but sauce, nary a solitary haricot in sight.

@its.messie We recently bought Rhodes tin beans from Frontline and there weren’t any beans inside just tomatoe water. #rhodesbeans #tinfood #satiktok ♬ original sound - Khermelice

Let’s not forget a few years ago when polony - among the cheapest sources of animal protein - was trying to kill us.

It seems then that something has got to give. Somehow, we need to counter the effects of climate change, solve our energy crisis, and government needs to right the economy so that our purchasing power increases, lest we all starve.


* IOL distributed the grocery items to various homeless people on the streets outside its offices in St George’s Mall, Cape Town.