Food prices in South Africa have increased significantly over the last 10 months, data from the Pietermaritzburg Economic Justice and Dignity group (PMBEJD) shows – with some areas paying more than others.
The civil society initiative found that its household food basket saw a marginal drop in price month-on-month, but remains at much higher levels than September 2020, when the basket was first compiled.
The basket was tracked at R8.88 (0.2%) cheaper than a month ago (May) at R4,128.23. However, over the past 10 months, the cost of the average basket price increased by 7.1% or R271.90. Inflation over the same period was much lower, tracking between 3% and 5%.
The basket comprises 44 core food items most frequently purchased by lower-income households who make up the majority of households in the country.
Since September 2020, the PMBEJD tracks food prices in three major metropolitan areas – Johannesburg, Cape Town and Durban – as well as two more remote or secondary metro regions – Pietermaritzburg and Springbok – to get a better sense of how prices differ across the country.
The cost difference of the total household food basket in the main metros of Joburg, Durban and Cape Town is consistent at around ±R200, the group noted.
Springbok and Pietermaritzburg tend to be outliers in the data, with Springbok (in the Northern Cape) being highest, and Pietermaritzburg, lowest.
Over the last 10 months, Springbok has also seen the largest increase in food prices overall, coming in at about 11.5% – this, compared to Cape Town, which has seen the lowest price inflation at about 3%.
This indicates that life is particularly difficult for households who live in more remote areas outside the major metros, where securing food items can be more costly due to the difficulties and logistics in distributing products.
Food items like sugar beans and cooking oil have increased in price across the country, but in remote areas like Springbok, they stand out.
This is also evident in fresh produce like fruit and vegetables, as well as in proteins like eggs, meat and fish.
The PMBEJD has long criticised the methodology used to calculate consumer price inflation in South Africa, saying that the range targetted – between 3% and 6% – is not reflective of the reality that households in the country face.
Notably, CPI calculations take into account goods and products that are not bought very frequently – like appliances or clothing – which also do not see wide price fluctuations, thus keeping overall CPI quite low.
However, items that make up the bulk of most household spending, such as food, are seeing massive increases as illustrated above. The problem comes in when companies or employers use CPI as a base for wage increases, giving increases that do not reflect the higher prices households are paying.
This has been exacerbated by the Covid-19 pandemic and lockdown, which has resulted in many people losing their jobs or being subjected to wage freezes, as well as opening the door for unscrupulous retailers to try and take advantage of the situation.
The Department of Trade Industry and Competition (DTIC) this week also warned consumers to be vigilant of price hikes during the lockdown and to educate themselves about the regulations that businesses must comply with during the Covid-19 pandemic.
DTIC deputy minister Nomalungelo Gina said that this is especially important as the department has picked up on some retailers selling goods at inflated rates.
With the high unemployment rate, this means that most consumers are no longer able to afford essential goods, especially those with inflated prices, she said.
“The anti-competitive behaviour by businesses might be one of the causes driving price hikes. The Covid-19 pandemic may have also contributed to how businesses are behaving in response to the pandemic, which in turn is negatively affecting consumers.
“It is therefore important for consumers to know their rights and understand steps to take where they suspect unfair practices by businesses,” said Gina.