Struggling South Africans are paying nearly R300 more for food than nine months ago

Suthentira Govender Senior reporter
South Africans who are struggling to keep their heads above water are forking out more for a basic food basket than they did last year.
South Africans who are struggling to keep their heads above water are forking out more for a basic food basket than they did last year.
Image: Khaya Ngwenya

South Africans are paying nearly R300 more for the average food basket in May compared to September last year.

This is according to the latest Household Affordability Index report compiled by the Pietermaritzburg Economic Justice & Dignity Group (PMBEJD), which tracks food price data from 44 supermarkets and 30 butcheries in Johannesburg, Durban, Cape Town, Pietermaritzburg and Springbok in Northern Cape.

It shows that over the past nine months the average cost of the household food basket increased by R280.77 (7.3%), from R3,856.34 in September 2020 to R4,137.11 in May 2021.

“The spikes we saw in April 2021, when the average cost of the household food basket increased by R159.37 (3.9%) in one month, have subdued in May 2021 but the reduction of the basket in May of R61.82 is much less than the April increase.  

“Inflation on food is still running very high and off a very high base. The foods which brought the total cost of the basket down in May 2021 were meats, tomatoes, oranges, and bananas,” the report states.

Key data from the lastest Household Affordability Index shows the difference in food prices between cities and the cost of core foods between September 2020 and May 2021.
Key data from the lastest Household Affordability Index shows the difference in food prices between cities and the cost of core foods between September 2020 and May 2021.
Image: Nolo Moima

It said while the overall cost of the average household food basket has decreased slightly, the cost of core foods like maize meal, cake flour, sugar beans, samp, cooking oil, potatoes and onions continues to rise, “albeit more slowly”. 

“The average cost of the foods prioritised and bought first in the household food basket came in at R2,232.12 in May 2021.  This is a month-on-month increase of 0.2% (R4.94) and a nine-month increase of 8.1% (R166.41).

“The sustained high cost of core staple foods is worrying as it is resulting in a crisis of proper nutrition on the family plate. 

“Our bodies need a diversity of good quality nutrition to function optimally. The deteriorating affordability situation in low-income families has negative consequences for overall household health and wellbeing, and these in turn will impact on all developmental outcomes,” said the PMBEJD’s Julie Smith.

“As the year pans out and electricity and transport increases come in, and when the hikes spread across the economy and increase the cost of all other goods and services, life is going to get even harder for workers earning at the national minimum wage level. This will impact severely on millions of families,” said Smith.

According to the report in May 2021, the average cost to feed a child a basic nutritious diet was R743.90.

“The child support grant of R460 a month is 21% below the food poverty line of R585 per capita and a further 38% below the May 2021 cost of R743.90 to feed a child a basic nutritious diet.  

“Over the past nine months the cost to feed a child a basic nutritious diet has increased by 6.9%.”

“Families have been telling us for years that they run out of nutritious food long before the end of the month. 

“Theoretically, for emphasis, if we suspend our good sense and pretend that raising children just means feeding them, and exclude transport, electricity to cook food, keep warm, water, soap and toothpaste, clothes and shoes, and scholar transport, the R460 child support grant will come to an end before 18 days. 

“This will not mean most children will eat nothing for the rest of the month, as the money will be stretched out, but it does illustrate the deficiencies in the value of the child support grant means child nutrition is compromised from day one. 

“Not allocating sufficient resources to enable mothers to feed their children properly will be very expensive in the long term. The cost of education and healthcare will increase exponentially as hungry children struggle to learn, get sick more often, more severely and for longer,” said Smith.

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