“I can’t remember the last time we ate red meat in this house,” says Beauty Mrwebi, 56, from Khayelitsha.
As food prices go up - June’s Household Affordability Index shows the average cost of the household food basket sitting at R4 688.81 - Mrwebi, who spends R2000 of her money on transport, says she honestly sometimes wonders how she feeds her family on her domestic worker salary.
Mrwebi has four adult children, three of whom are part of the 64% statistic of unemployed youth in our country. The three unemployed children, plus a grandchild, live with her.
“I buy my food in the shops nearby. For instance, I got a whole packet of apples for R10 and a whole punnet of grapes for R10 while that is selling in the stores for R40.
“But, even the local sellers in Khayelitsha are getting expensive.
The one good thing that came out of Covid is that Mrwebi was able to start a small food garden at her home with spinach, pumpkin and some other veg. “This really helped supplement our plate. However, now that I work from early to late. I have neglected the garden,” she says.
Staples in the Mrwebi household include: Flour, maize meal, rice, two-minute noodles, tins of pilchards, and other meat may include sausage and chicken. She also keeps some spices to add flavour to the meal. However, even the price of spices have gone up.
The Pietermaritzburg Economic Justice & Dignity Group (PMBEJD), who compiles a household affordability index each month, says curry powder has gone up 6%. Onions, salt, and soup all went up above 3%.
They also reported some other food price increases such as cooking oil going up by 13%. A 5-litre bottle of cooking oil now costs an average of R228.94 - a whopping increase of R27.04 month-on-month.
“Where I used to use a lot of oil, we now do dry frying or use water,” says Mrwebi.
A typical dinner at the Mrwebi home will be pap with tomato, onion and some chopped sausage. “I buy the sausage when it is on special for about R39 a kilo, and I buy about five kilos. I portion it out for the month, although it does not last for a month if we eat it more than once a week.”
Chicken livers, hearts and giblets are a great help, Says Mrwebi. “I make them with mixed veg, onions and serve it with a starch either rice, pap or bread.”
For breakfast, it is either pap or cereal with milk. However, with a litre of milk at R13, and “we use 1 litre per day for the whole house - we sometimes make our pap with no milk, and it’s still nice with a bit of sugar”.
“A favourite at the house is ‘steam bread’. It is home-made bread where we put a tiny bit of oil in a dish add the dough (flour, water and yeast with some salt and sugar), and then place that dish in a big pot with hot water and let it boil. It is delicious, and sometimes we have it with spread and tea or as the starch for our main meal.”
Mrwebi says they do not eat expensive food, but because of spices “my children always enjoy my food”.
She says other ways she has of making her money stretch is to buy a live chicken from a person who sells in her area, and “we use them for eggs and later meat”. “It is much better than the chicken in stores because it is fresh and tasty. There is also a business close by who does this, and so we are guaranteed fresh chicken.”
However, with rising costs, especially with transport since the petrol prices are increasing, Mrwebi says things are going to get tougher to keep herself and her family fed.
“As difficult as it is for my family, I can see others suffering even more.
“We are lucky where we live in Khayelitsha as people care for each other. We help each other. If a neighbour is without, it won’t be for long because we will share.”
Her adult children are not the only ones in the area without work. “My children are not working yet they are talented. Rejection after rejection when they go look for jobs can break a person’s spirit.”
Mrwebi adds: “Even if someone asks me how I look after five people on my salary, I can’t even begin to say how. Yet somehow, we make it work.”