A study by the Pietermaritzburg Economic Justice and Dignity group (PMBEJD) examined the prices of core foods in some of South Africa’s larger metropolitan areas, and Cape Town was most expensive.
PMBEJD tracked the 17 core foods found most often in shopping baskets of low-income households in the country. Food prices were tracked directly by data collectors who shopped at 44 supermarkets and butcheries that target low-income markets.
The data provides an insight into the national picture of household affordability and food prices, with specific attention being given to how the homes of families living on minimum wages and low social grants are affected.
“It is able to track how families living on low incomes are responding to a deepening financial and economic crisis, given rising expenditure costs, job losses, stagnant employment, rising household debt, a deepening food crisis, deepening poverty and entrenched inequality,” said PMBEJD.
In Cape Town, the supermarkets were in Khayelitsha, Gugulethu, Philippi, Delft, and Dunoon.
According to the data, the average cost of the household food basket was R3 783.16 in September 2020.
PMBEJD says this is much more than low-income families can afford. For contrast, the National Minimum Wage for the same period was R3 487.68.
The Household Food Basket costs in different cities were as follows:
—R3 834.10 in Cape Town (Western Cape)
—R3 808.26 in Johannesburg (Gauteng)
—R3 731.40 in Durban (KwaZulu-Natal)
—R3 601.38 in Pietermaritzburg (KwaZulu-Natal)
—R3 989.84 in Springbok (Northern Cape)
The data shows there is about R100 difference in the cost price between Cape Town, Johannesburg and Durban. Pietermaritzburg, where this study was initially conducted before being expanded, is about R100 cheaper, while Springbok which is an outlier because it is a small town is R200 more expensive.
Core foods account for around 55% of the Household Food Basket, at an average cost of R2 065,71.
This concerns PMBEJD because while core foods are bought first and ensure that families do not go hungry – when the prices of core foods increase there is less money to buy other important nutritionally rich foods, which are essential for ‘health and well-being and strong immune systems’.
According to PMBEJD, nutritionally-rich food includes meat, eggs and dairy. Fruit and vegetables, as well as, maas, peanut butter and pilchards.
“Food is an essential expense,” said the group. “Everything rests on our bodies having good health and good nutrition. If we did not know this before, then we know it now.”
PMBEJD recommends that government makes the social grant top-ups and R350 COVID-19 grant permanent, as the removal of this financial assistance now will see families worse off than they were before March 2020 because most households were not able to absorb the shock that came with the pandemic.
“Removing the grant too soon could act to thrust already very vulnerable households into a situation whereby they may not be able to recover,” said PMBEJD.