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Familes battle to buy groceries as lockdown sees increase in food price

Families have resorted to buying food weekly as they fear their finances could be further affected during the lockdown.

Families have resorted to buying food weekly as they fear their finances could be further affected during the lockdown.

Published Jun 11, 2020

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DURBAN - Families affected by the Covid-19 pandemic are struggling to afford staple foods.  

They say the prices of rice, oil and other essential items have increased over the past two months and they can no longer buy their groceries monthly. 

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The families have resorted to buying food weekly as they fear their finances could be further affected during the lockdown. 

Ashwin Rampershad, 52, a supervisor, said: “Financially, I am barely making it. We rely on grocery hampers from the community to get by. The price of simple items like flour and margarine has increased. 

“I don’t know how we are going to survive.”

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Rampershad, of Merebank, has a wife, son, 27, who is unemployed, and daughter, 18, a matric pupil. 

Before the lockdown, he worked in the retail industry. He was paid his full salary for March but for April and May he received 35% of his wage. 

“I resigned because I could not survive on that income. 

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“At the beginning of June, I started a job as a supervisor for a company that makes burglar guards. I make just enough to get by. Life has, however, been tough. Now when we cook, we try to make the food last for at least two days.” 

He said that previously they ate meat and chicken dishes almost every day, but now it was twice a week. 

Rampershad said a 1-litre box of milk previously lasted two days. 

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“We each had to limit our tea and coffee intake to two cups a day compared to four to six cups previously. The milk now lasts for at least two more days.”

Rampershad, who is paying off a bond, said he had to ensure all the bills were paid. 

“Before the lockdown, my son did a few casual jobs to help out. Now with most businesses closing, I fear he will not find a job.”

Crystal Pillay, 38, a call centre agent, of Chatsworth, has appealed to supermarkets to reduce their prices. 

The mother of four said that due to the Covid-19 restrictions on how many people were allowed at the office, she went to work once a week as the staff was rotated.

“For May, I earned R600. This is a fraction of my salary, which is over R5 000. My husband, who works at a cellphone store, received his salary but we had to be wise and use the money for our basic needs like our utility bills and food. 

“When I went to the supermarket, I was shocked to see that a 10kg bag of rice was now R110. Prior to the lockdown, I paid R80. Even the cheapest brand of margarine was R26.99 for a small tub.

“Other items, like a pocket of potatoes, went up by R20 and a 5-litre bottle of cooking oil is more than R100.” 

She said they tried to cook one meal a day that would last for lunch and supper. 

“I have to explain to my kids that we need to share. It’s not like before, where they took what they wanted from the kitchen when they wanted to. Before the lockdown, we would buy our groceries in bulk. 

“There was no limitation. Now we have to compare the prices before we consider buying the items.” 

She said her children, aged 5 to 16, were used to junk food.

“We used to stock the cupboard with chips, biscuits and sweets. Now that they are at home they like to snack. All we could do was buy two packets of chips and a box of biscuits.”

A resident from Campbell’s Town in Mount Edgecombe closed her home-based business offering sewing classes during the lockdown. 

“I had about 15 students. With the money I generated, I bought groceries and paid the utility bills. Due to the lockdown, I had to close and I am now selling face masks.” 

The resident, 50, is unmarried and cares for her mother and three nieces aged between 13 and 18. The children’s parents are dead. 

They live in a three-bedroom home. 

“Our monthly grocery bill used to come to about R4 000. Since the end of March, I started doing my shopping weekly. 

“I was shocked to see how the price of oil went up by R15 and sugar by more than R10. This may be small amounts but to people who don’t have a steady income it is a lot.”

She said every week items like bread, milk, eggs, some vegetables and a few meat items came to more than R800. 

“It is hard to stretch these groceries. With everyone being at home, we are cooking more often. I fear what the future may hold.”

According to a survey by Statistics South Africa, by the sixth week of the lockdown there were more households without an income.

Mervyn Abrahams from Pietermaritzburg Economic Justice and Dignity, an NPO, said families were spending more than 30% more on food items than they were before the lockdown. 

“Our research found that the household food basket has increased by 7.8%, which is R250 between March 2020 and May 2020. The lockdown restrictions 

have meant that with children and workers at home, food runs out quicker, after two weeks, and women can no longer shop around for the cheapest prices.

“The government’s decisions on responding to the pandemic via a hard lockdown and the specific regulations related to these is impacting on and changing the expenditure patterns and consumer behaviours of house-holds living on low incomes significantly.”

Abrahams said the research  further found that without steady incomes, households were having to borrow money at high interest rates to buy food. 

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