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Picture: 123RF/279PHOTO
Picture: 123RF/279PHOTO

South Africans are paying more than 10% more for basic food items compared with a year ago, and those struggling to keep the lights on are likely to spend almost 40% less on food.

The latest Household Affordability Index, compiled by Pietermaritzburg Economic Justice and Dignity (PMBEJD) and released on Wednesday, shows the average cost of the food basket increased R410.53 (10.2%), from R4,039.56 in March 2021 to R4,450.09 in March 2022.

The report showed 33 of the 44 foods tracked in the household food basket have risen in price, with significant increases for cake flour, cooking oil, eggs, tea, bread, rice, white sugar and maize meal.

The index tracks food price data from 44 supermarkets and 30 butcheries in Johannesburg, Durban, Cape Town, Pietermaritzburg and Springbok in the Northern Cape.

According to the index:

  • the Johannesburg basket increased by R86.64 (2%) for the month of March 2022 and by R430 (10.6%) for the year March 2021 to March 2022;
  • the Durban basket increased by R16.22 (0.4%) and R366.30 (9%) year on year;
  • the Cape Town basket increased by R151.38 (3.6%) and R394.08 (10%) year on year;
  • the Springbok basket increased by R163.87 (3.6%) and R496.22 (11.7%) year on year; and
  • the Pietermaritzburg basket increased by R51.95 (1.2%) and R396.62 (10.3%) year on year.

The government recently increased the national minimum wage by R1.50 an hour (from R21.69 to R23.19), R12 a day, and R264 per month based on a 22-day working month.

“This increment in the light of the difficulties coming this year is unlikely to ease the suffering of workers. Instead it is likely to deepen it. Transport fares, electricity, food and essential domestic hygiene products are projected to increase well beyond the annual wage increment,” said PMBEJD co-ordinator Mervyn Abrahams.

“Because food is bought after monies for transport and electricity have been paid or set aside, … PMBEJD calculates workers’ families will underspend on food by a minimum of 37.2% this month.

“The surge in the oil price, which is an input in everything from the farm to the plate, including the higher costs of wheat, sunflower oil and other foods and agricultural inputs, which SA imports, will drive prices upwards as the conflict in Ukraine continues. Bread is a staple food in SA. PMBEJD tracks prices in the first week of the month, the conflict in Ukraine has escalated since we collected prices.”

The organisation said: “The outlook for food prices specifically related to the higher oil price and wheat, other grains, cereals, legumes and oil, including higher fuel and electricity prices, is likely to be very severe for SA.”

Stats SA’s latest consumer price index (CPI) for February 2022 showed headline inflation was 5.7%, and for the lowest expenditure quintiles 1-3, it was 7%, 6.6% and 5.8% respectively. CPI food inflation was 6.7%. 

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