Last updated on Jun 23rd, 2021 at 12:53 pm

“This leads us to conclude that the massive spikes and upward trends in the Pietermaritzburg data over the past 6 months were also playing out nationally.” – PMBEJD Household Affordability Index


Research by the Pietermaritzburg Economic Justice & Dignity Group (PMBEJD) shows how the cost of groceries has skyrocketed over the past few months…

The average cost of the Household Food Basket in September was R3 783,16 according to the PMBEJD. “This is well beyond the affordability thresholds of families living on low incomes,” says Mervyn Abrahams, Programme Coordinator at PMBEJD. “The National Minimum Wage for this same period was R3 487,68.”

Food crisis deepening

“The deepening household affordability and food crisis in South Africa, exacerbated by Covid19 compelled us to expand the scope of the Household Affordability Index beyond Pietermaritzburg.  We ran a pilot project from April-August and are now able to provide new food price data for Johannesburg, Durban, Cape Town, Springbok and Pietermaritzburg,” says Abrahams.

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“Now that we have far more comprehensive empirical evidence of the food affordability crisis beyond Pietermaritzburg (data that reinforces several years of investigations), it is critical that we act,” emphasises Abrahams. “In the immediate-term top-ups on the social grants should be made permanent.”

The cost of the Household Food Basket

The statistics below were highlighted in the Household Food Basket report by PMBEJD.

  • In September 2020, the average cost of the Household Food Basket was R3 783,16.
  • The cost of the Pietermaritzburg Household Food Basket was R3 601,38.
  • The cost of the Durban Household Food Basket was R3 731,40.
  • The cost of the Joburg Household Food Basket was R3 808,26.
  • The cost of the Cape Town Household Food Basket was R3 834,10.
  • The cost of the Springbok Household Food Basket was R3 989,84.

Between August 2020 and September 2020, the cost of the Pietermaritzburg Household Food Basket decreased by -0,5% (-R17,36).

However, over the past six months of lockdown (March 2020 to September 2020), the cost of the basket increased by 7,2% (R232,62); and year-on-year (September 2019 to September 2020), the cost has increased by 10,4% (R326,41).

Grocery bills have skyrocketed – But we’re paying the price for buying cheaper too: here’s why

Job cuts & economic crisis in Covid-19

The South African economy shed 2,2 million jobs in the second quarter of 2020, according to the latest Quarterly Labour Force Survey from Statistics South Africa.  The official unemployment rate is calculated using the number of persons who are employed and unemployed, and does not include discouraged work seekers.

Quarter 2: 2020 results, released by Statistics South Africa on 29 September 2020.

Labour force statistics
Quarter 2: 2020 results, released by Statistics South Africa on 29 September 2020. (Source:


In March this year, it was announced that South Africa had slipped into a recession for the first time in eight years. The dip continued as the economy shrank by 51% in the second quarter.

“The 51 percent plunge in the three months through June was worse than many analysts were expecting and marks the fourth consecutive quarter of negative economic growth for South Africa,” noted a report by Al-Jazeera.

The economic crisis and job cuts have left households with gaping holes in their budgets. Families who were living on the bread line are now struggling even more. Income earners may have lost their jobs or experienced significant pay cuts, while expenses (groceries, trips to the doctor, transport to stores, purchasing data for school work from home) have increased.

Cost of CORE foods affects the ability to purchase nutritious foods

“The core foods are bought first, and these foods ensure that families do not go hungry whilst ensuring that meals can be cooked,” says Abrahams.

However, as the cost of these core foods increase, there is less money for the foods that add nutrition to a meal. Fresh vegetables and fruit, healthy proteins, and calcium-rich dairy products are put on the back-burner. So, while stomachs might be ‘full’, bodies are lacking in essential nutrients, vitamins and minerals, which could lead to serious health consequences.

Lack of proper nutrition also leads to a lack of energy and motivation. Young children at school will not be able to concentrate properly, and their learning will be affected. For adults, getting through hard physical labour or maintaining proper energy levels throughout the day will become tougher and tougher.

“The data shows that the core foods contribute ±55% of the total cost of the Household Food Basket. At an average cost of R2 065,71, these foods remove a lot of money from the household purse whilst removing proper nutritious food off the plate,” says Abrahams.

core foods
Core foods
Source: Household Affordability Index – Pietermaritzburg Economic Justice & Dignity Group (PMBEJD)

Grant levels and top-ups

As the country faces a massive economic crisis, and the food prices continue to escalate, Abrahams says it’s essential that the special R350 Covid-19 grant continues to be given to families in need. He also says that the government should continue to top up the Child Support Grant of R500 per mother/caregiver, including the R250 top-up to the Old Age Grant.

“The value of the top-ups is not enough to assist households to absorb the shock of income losses and food price increases but they do help,” says Abrahams.

“Food prices have not come down off these Covid19 and lockdown highs; and with the Festive season approaching, food prices are expected to rise. At the same time, transport hikes and electricity tariff hikes have come into play which have exacerbated the household affordability crisis (by removing money from the food purse). Job losses, pay cuts, fewer days or hours paid work because of Covid19 and the lockdown, and South Africa’s deteriorating economy, continue to lower income levels.”

Government’s plan to tackle the economic crisis

In September 2020, when President Ramaphosa addressed the nation on the move to Level 1, he highlighted the devastation that the coronavirus pandemic had caused in the country.

“Our economy and our society have suffered great devastation. We have endured a fierce and destructive storm. But, by standing together, by remaining resolute, we have withstood it.”

“Now is the time to return our country, its people and our economy to a situation that is more normal, that more resembles the lives that we were living six months ago,” said the President. “It is therefore vital that we move with urgency to rebuild our economy, restore growth and create jobs.”

The National Economic Development and Labour Council (NEDLAC) have put together a plan for economic recovery and reconstruction. It will build on the R500 billion economic and social relief package government announced in April 2020. The President will reveal the details of the plan once it has been finalised by Cabinet.

How to keep your family’s grocery costs low + Recipes

About the Household Food Basket research:

  • Food prices are tracked directly by women data collectors off the shelves of 44 supermarkets and 30 butcheries which target the low-income market. 
  • The supermarkets are in Soweto, Alexandra, Tembisa and Hillbrow (Joburg), Khayelitsha, Gugulethu, Philippi, Delft, Dunoon (Cape Town), KwaMashu, Umlazi, Durban CBD, Mtubatuba (Durban), Springbok (in the Northern Cape) and Pietermaritzburg CBD.  
  • There are 43 foods in the household basket. The basket is designed for a household with 7-members, the average household size of families living on a low income.

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