Durban – Food prices have continued to spiral out of control as families struggle to put food on the table due to dwindling income.

The situation has also been exacerbated by the fact that women are unable to shop around for the best value due to the Covid-19 lockdown that forces them to rush their shopping.

Pietermaritzburg Economic Justice and Dignity’s (PMBEJD) latest food price survey shows that a basket of basic food items increased over the past two months from March 2 to April 23 by 7.8%, with the cost of a basket rising by R252.75 to R3473.75. The NGO collected food prices in several Pietermaritzburg supermarkets which target the low-income market.

“South Africa imports rice, wheat, and palm oil. The spike in rice, cake flour and cooking oil, and bread may be linked to supply disruptions, exchange rates, among other factors. Maize meal prices continue to be stable (the harvest is coming in). The maize meal price should decrease if prices in supermarkets are related to supply,” the PMBEJD report said.

According to the survey, bread prices had not spiked over the past three weeks but they remained 14% to 15% higher than they were at the beginning of March this year.

PMBEJD said in its report that regulations issued by the Department of Trade and Industry (dti) under the Disaster Management Act for Consumer and Customer Protection had omitted bread, sugar beans, samp and eggs from the list of foods, and these basic items should have been protected from increases during the Covid-19 outbreak.

“These foods are critical staple foods, and sugar beans and eggs are essential for proper nutrition. Green bar soap should also be included. The DTI must urgently amend the regulations,” PMBEJD said.

“The food price increases we are seeing in Pietermaritzburg are considerable. A 7.8% or additional R250 cost for a basic basket of core staple foods over the past two months for families living on low incomes is a serious financial shock.

“Women are concerned that with the projected job losses, the staggered return of workers to employment, the small bits of top-ups on the grants, and the physical distancing at supermarkets restricting their strategy to shop for the cheapest prices across several supermarkets, May is going to be a very hard month,” PMBEJD said.

Researcher Julie Smith said women were being forced to go out and shop quickly between 4am and 10am to ensure they could catch the last morning taxi home due to the restricted transport hours. She said the regulations were forcing everybody to rush out and shop at the same time.

Women in Pietermaritzburg, KwaMashu, Wentworth, Joburg CBD, Tembisa and Springbok had complained about the long lines outside supermarkets, she said.

“A woman collecting prices for us was in the queue for six hours before she could get to the front of the queue, and when she got into the supermarket shoppers were only allowed to shop for 20 minutes, so it became this mad trolley dash,” she said.

“The ability to shop around has been suspended because of the lockdown regulations. Because they can’t shop around, their food baskets are costing a lot more than they would and they have less money in their pockets,” she said.

Smith said many households would not be able to survive in May unless people were rapidly allowed to return to work.

The Mercury

By Lyse Comins