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‘Grocery days are stressful‚ honestly’ - South Africans struggle to tighten already tight belts

| Economic factors

Just when South Africans thought things could not get worse‚ they did. After the much-contested VAT increase‚ we were hit by consecutive petrol price hikes. And another fuel price increase is expected next month.

Basetsana Mokoena‚ a mother of two‚ has become a tentative shopper. Not only does she have to leave the ice-cream behind‚ she can’t afford to buy the individual brands that she usually trusts.

“It’s hard‚ I don’t want to lie. You are never sure if you will have enough money for food‚ transport or other things. A simple thing like 2kg chicken used to be R40 at its highest‚ now it’s R70. It’s shocking. I don’t buy chicken regularly anymore because I have to prioritise‚” Mokoena said.

Mokoena and many South Africans have been feeling the pinch that came with various cost increases.

 “When you hear ‘one percent’ you think‚ ‘Ah‚ that’s nothing.’ But when you come to the shop you get shocked. Grocery days are stressful‚ honestly. I had to cut a lot of things from my shopping list‚ and I think I am getting used to the stress and compromises. What can I do?” Mokoena said.

For her family‚ Christmas comes once a year as she had to cut off luxuries that made her Super Mommy and made her family look forward to suppertime.

The Pietermaritzburg Agency for Community Social Action (Pacsa) has called on government to declare food as public goods and free of VAT. This would‚ effectively‚ increase wages for those at the bottom of the earnings chain and regulate food prices.

The organisation tracks the so-called “food basket”‚ defined as the 38 foods that working class households have identified as the items they typically buy each month. Pacsa has raised concern over food price inflation in recent months. It found that prices were higher on zero-rated foods than on foods subject to VAT.

 “The trends in this data show that the assumption that zero-rated foods are cheap or affordable is not true. Hiking the VAT rate has made the affordability crisis deeper and will have a considerably negative impact on households living on low incomes‚ who are already in a very severe crisis‚” said Julie Smith‚ the organisation’s research and advocacy coordinator.

She said that what was significant about the April 2018 data was that‚ despite the actual drop in the cost of the foods subject to VAT in the basket‚ the total VAT component on the baskets for households living on low incomes increased by 6.5% – with the VAT total increasing from R208.10 to R221.59. This meant that the 1 percentage point VAT hike resulted in a 6.5% increase in the total VAT on the foods subject to VAT in the basket.

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