Throughout the year, the Pietermaritzburg Economic Justice & Dignity Group (PMBEJD) has been tracking the skyrocketing cost of groceries and core food items in the country…

According to the PMBEJD’s latest stats, there will be no relief for consumers as we head into the festive season, as food prices continue to rise.

According to Mervyn Abrahams, Programme Coordinator at PMBEJD, the average price of the household food basket has increased by R161,89 in just three months. Families on average are forking out R4018,22 for household staples every month.

“These increases in basic food prices in the trollies of the majority of South Africans is alarming,” says Abrahams. “Our data at household level continues to paint a picture of escalating hunger, debt, unemployment, violence, poverty, and inequality.”

Cost of food basket is above national minimum wage

The data collected by the organisation shows that the average cost of a household food basket exceeds the national minimum wage for a general worker. The wages are around R3 487,68. The basket costs R4 018,22. This means families are forced to cut back, or choose lower quality products in order to stave off hunger.

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“In November 2020, the average cost to feed a child a basic nutritious diet cost R713,51,” says Abrahams. “The Child Support Grant of R440 a month is 25% below the food poverty line of R585 per capita and a further 38% below the November cost of R713,51 to feed a child a basic nutritious diet.”

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What’s in the Household Food Basket?

The Household Food Basket tracks 44 basic foods which women living in low-income households try to buy each month.

“Food prices are collected by women directly off the shelves of retailers which target the low-income market in Soweto and Alexandra, in Khayelitsha and Gugulethu, in KwaMashu and Umlazi, amongst others,” says Abrahams.

Average Household Food Basket cost in major cities

  • In November 2020, the cost of the Joburg Household Food Basket was R4 054,94
  • The cost of the Durban Household Food Basket was R4 022,78
  • The cost of the Cape Town Household Food Basket was R3 975,28
  • The cost of the Springbok Household Food Basket was R4 425,03
  • The cost of the Pietermaritzburg Household Food Basket was R3 742,34

The prices of key staples have risen dramatically

The main foods that are driving higher increases in the Household Food Basket over the past three months continue to be the core foods which women buy first:

  • maize meal (6%)
  • rice (1%)
  • cake flour (2%)
  • white sugar (2%)
  • sugar beans (23%)
  • samp (6%)
  • cooking oil (2%)
  • potatoes (35%)
  • white and brown bread (4% and 3%)

Increased food costs lead to health concerns

As moms are forced to buy cheaper items, and less fresh produce due to the cost, overall family health deteriorates. Healthy food contributes towards physical and mental health. Vitamin deficiency has been linked to depression, and children who don’t have adequate nutrition aren’t able to concentrate on schoolwork or learning.

As food prices escalate, the whole family suffers – and not just from hunger.

“Our health, education, economic and social outcomes continue to unravel,” says Abrahams.

Family meals & finances – How skyrocketing grocery prices are affecting our kids’ nutrition

Women have lost hope in the government

“Many women we speak to no longer believe that government will intervene to assist them,” says Abrahams. “They tell us that it will be hard, but they will survive.”

“Women continue absorbing high food prices, losses of jobs, and cuts in income internally, and at great cost. But as resilient as women are, this toughness will be severely tested over the festive season and the dreaded long-drawn-out month of January.”

What will the future look like?

Abrahams believes the government needs to intervene decisively in this crisis. The organisation believes that government should “switch its focus from creating jobs for a few, to supporting livelihoods for many.”

“A few thousand temporary jobs is not an appropriate response to the household affordability and economic crisis that more than 11,1 million South Africans face at household level.”

Direct income transfers recommended

“Supporting households to create their own work, even at the level of survivalist activities in the short-term, via direct income transfers is likely to create much more favourable outcomes for millions of South African households, whilst acting to kick-start higher growth and a transformed economy from the ground-up,” says Abrahams.

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