Johannesburg - It may be the season of Black Fridays and bargains, but for many South Africans it is a time of the great swindle where specials just mean spending money they don’t have.
After yet another year of Covid-19, many South Africans are heading into an uncertain festive season facing higher prices, while being poorer than they were last year.
The Pietermaritzburg Economic Justice and Dignity’s (PMBEJD) latest Household Affordability Index shows that the average cost of the Household Food Basket for November was a whopping R4 272,44. The Basket contains a number of food items, the prices of which the PMBEJD tracked across South Africa.
Last year this time, the Household Food Basket was R254,19 cheaper. And while prices have gone up, the effect of Covid-19 has also, researchers at the PMBEJD found, negatively affected the way women in particular shopped.
“Women say that they now go into one store, shop then take a taxi home. This is because of the cost of transport and Covid. Two years ago they used to move from one store to the next finding bargains,” said the programme coordinator of the PMBEJD, Merwyn Abrahams.
Some consumers said that was time of the year was the time of the great swindle where shops lured them in with specials, but they ended up spending more because of higher prices on other products.
There was however some good news. The latest data did show that month on month all the household food baskets across South Africa came down, except in Johannesburg where it was pushed up by higher vegetable, cooking oil and bread prices.
Data collectors with the PMBEJD also found that in Johannesburg and Durban, some of the women interviewed were spending more money on transport because some stores that were destroyed during the unrest in July, had yet to reopen.
All this as the National Minimum Wage for a General Worker in November stood at a mere R3 643,92. Transport ate up 36,9% of this wage and electricity 20%. This then left them with just R1 568,42 for other household expenses.
Taking a chunk out of what was left were hygiene products.
To gauge what families spent on cleaning products, the PMBEJD has a Household Domestic Hygiene index. This found that in November 2021 a collection of several items that a family would use - jik, green soap, washing powder and dish washing detergent - would come to R738,78 in November. This had over the year increased by R50.
Abrahams said it was not fully understood what was driving the cost of these items up.
“We have called for the Consumer Commission to be more upfront in investigating different value chains to ask where does the price increase arise and if it is a fair increase. And until we know that, it will be difficult to test these prices,” said Abrahams, who added that he suspected that the major pricing was probably added by big retail stores.
The Consumer Commission in their recent essential food pricing monitor report pointed out that high prices were linked to agriculture and this was where reform was needed.
“The pandemic has also highlighted that the industrial market structure for agriculture may need some reform if we are going to achieve more sustainable and more inclusive agriculture, providing greater livelihood opportunities for others and bringing down the prices of agricultural products”, the report said.
The report went on to say that it may be necessary to develop a model that allows for industrial agriculture, while at the same time supporting and including small-scale and local farming.
But while questions are asked about increases in prices, for millions of South Africans this is the season of added expenses, scraping together something for Xmas day, then dealing with the financial worries of January.
As rising costs push more and more South Africans below the poverty line, there is also a sense of helplessness and despair.
“Does it really matter doing this index. We are just saying it is increasing, increasing and nothing significant is happening to at least keep the price increases down,” said Abrahams.