Picture: Mike Segar/Reuters/African News Agency (ANA)
Picture: Mike Segar/Reuters/African News Agency (ANA)

Covid-19 in SA: Company accused of hiking price of face masks by 888%

By Siviwe Feketha Time of article published Apr 17, 2020

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Johannesburg - The first company to be hauled before the Competition Tribunal for prosecution over hiking Covid-19 face mask prices by nearly 1 000% was left surprised, as it claimed to have demonstrated it was not guilty.

This comes as the Competition Commission starts to crack down on excessive pricing on essential items during the coronavirus pandemic, which has infected 2506 and killed 34 people in the country so far.

Babelegi Workwear Overall Manufacturers & Industrial Supplies was accused of overcharging for facial masks, with the demand increasing with the coronavirus outbreak.

Commission spokesperson Sipho Ngwema said they were inundated with hundreds of complaints from consumers about the prices of certain essential goods, and food items rocketing since the start of the outbreak.

“The commission investigated the complaints and found that from January 31 to March 5, Babelegi increased its prices of facial masks from R41 a box to R500 per box, which was in excess of 500%,” Ngwema said.

He added that the commission further found that Babelegi’s prices for masks had increased by at least 888% when comparing prices on December 9 to the price on March 5.

“Mark-ups (and not prices) significantly dropped after March 18, allegedly after the supplier increased input prices. The supplier is now also under investigation for excessive pricing. Facial masks fall under the category of ‘medical and hygiene supplies’, and have been identified as essential goods for the prevention and escalation of the Covid-19 pandemic,” Ngwema pointed out.

On Thursday, Babelegi’s representative Johan Maree said the company, which denied the allegations, was shocked when it learnt that it was being referred for prosecution, adding that it would await the outcome of the probe.

“We were still waiting for the response from the commission. The issue had been addressed to them with all the evidence given to them. It was a surprise when we heard that they are referring us for prosecution,” Maree said.

Since the declaration of the state of national disaster, South Africans have complained about a number of price hikes on essential items, including hand sanitisers, toiletries and food.

Several other complaints which were formally lodged with the commission had already been concluded, and were awaiting referral to the Tribunal for prosecution, according to Ngwema.

Political Bureau

* For the latest on the Covid-19 outbreak visit IOL's #Coronavirus trend page

** If you think you have been exposed to the Covid-19 virus, please call the government's 24-hour hotline on 0800 029 999 or go to SA Coronavirus for more information.

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