Cape Town - The increase in food prices is worrying households as looming fuel prices are also expected.
In the Fester household in Johannesburg, a usual basket of food would cost between R4 000 to R4 500 monthly to feed between four to five people.
However, as the Covid-19 pandemic hit, the main breadwinner in the household was left without a job.
Because the family was unable to maintain their residence, they had to relocate to Cape Town to find alternative ways of survival.
“My nerves are cracked because jobs out there pay so little. My fear right now is finding a job that is not even going to pay me enough to make ends meet,” the 51-year-old mother said.
The family has now had to cut back and opt for cheaper brands of foods, as well as cutbacks on doctor and dentist visits and opt to go to government facilities.
All things seen as luxury such as eating out became a thing of the past.
“We also had to cut back on meals in the sense that it had to be based on quantity not quality,” the mother of four said.
This comes on the cusp of the March 2022 Household Affordability Index by the Pietermaritzburg Economic Justice & Dignity (PMBEJD) which stated South African households are now paying R4 450.09 on a basket of 44 foods.
According to the PMBEJD’s Mervyn Abrahams, households across the nation have seen a 2% increase monthly on a basket of food and an annual increase of 10%.
This is a R410 increase from last year.
The significant increases are cake flour, cooking oil, eggs, tea, bread and also include maize meal, rice, and white sugar.
The national minimum wage is R4 081.44.
“Households will have to cut back on their food consumption. Why food consumption? Most low-income houses prioritise their budget and their incomes in this way: they pay for transport, electricity, debt servicing and food.
“If you look at the key data, In March 2022, the maximum national minimum wage for a general worker is R4 081.44. Transport to work and back will cost a worker an average of R1 408.00. Electricity will cost a worker an average of R731.50.
“A basket of basic but nutritious food will cost a worker R3 092.25. Together these three core expenses come to R5 231.75.
“So what do people do, they cut back on their food consumption, they eat fewer meals or they eat less quality food,” Abrahams told IOL.
He said cutting back on food has major implications. These implications are health, as 25% of boy children are stunted, disease burden increases and education outcomes are directly impacted as a hungry child cannot learn.
Abrahams said one of the reasons for this spike in food prices is the impact of the Russia-Ukraine conflict.
“Prices are collected in the first week of the month.
“We are expecting the April data will once again show increases, the situation is really getting dire.
“In SA, we are used to crisis management.
“There are a lot of global risks and therefore we have to start asking the question how we can build resilience in the economy and in the household,” Abrahams said.
He has also offered a solution to start building this resilience for South Africans during these dire economical times.
“Part of building resilience when it comes to food is that we have to begin seriously looking at local food systems and move away from big commercial agriculture and we can lessen our exposure to some of these global factors.
“We must lessen our exposure to the fuel prices, one of the ways is to begin to move from roads to rail transport. And lastly, greater employment and decent wages,” Abrahams said.
Economist Dawie Roodt expressed his deep concern at the soaring food prices and he believes the worst is yet to come.
“I am very, very concerned. In South Africa we have high unemployment levels, high levels of poverty and because of all of these things we have more and more people depending on the state for income.
“We have more than 32 million people receiving an income from the state every month.
“We have 13 million people working in the private sector. The worst is still to come.
“Ukrainians are not going to plant grain or sunflowers, or not much.
“This is not the end. Things are going to get significantly worse. In fact, some countries like Somalia and Ethiopia, could potentially face starvation. Countries like Morocco, Egypt can also get into trouble as they import a lot of grain from Ukraine and Russia. Certain hardships are coming,” Roodt warned.
While he believes South Africans may survive the hardships, he said it will “not be nice”.
Roodt knows the nation faces many challenges such as unemployment, poverty, rising fuel prices, and energy but said these problems can only be fixed once the country’s biggest problem is fixed - politics.
“We have a weak, corrupt and incompetent government. They need to make changes and they are just not prepared to do that. The changes are politically difficult to do but they need to change labour legislation, privatise state-owned enterprises, they must close South African Airways, as an example, you must allow the private sector to generate more electricity and start selling it to municipalities, you must do those things but they don’t do that.
“Things are going to get worse, we can speak about poverty and unemployment but that is not the problem, that is the consequence,” Roodt told IOL.
So, while the economy is stagnant, fuel increases loom for April and the rise in unemployment rises, the Fester household still has hope things may change for them despite the fact that the future may look bleak for now.