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Food prices in Joburg vs Cape Town vs Durban

| Economic factors

New research from the Pietermaritzburg Economic Justice and Dignity group (PMBEJD) shows how the prices of core foods differ across the country’s major cities.

The comparison tracks 17 core foods found in the shopping baskets of low income households in South Africa, taken off the shelves of 44 supermarkets and 30 butcheries in Joburg, Cape Town and Durban. Stores in the Northern Cape and Pietermaritzburg were also tracked.

The data provides a national picture of household affordability and food prices, but also specifically highlights the plight of the most vulnerable in South African society – particularly during the economic turmoil brought about by the Covid-19 lockdown.

“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,” the PMBEJD said.

According to the data, the average cost of the average Household Food Basket – covering 43 foods in total – is R3,783.16 in September 2020. The 17 core foods comprise 55% of this at R2,065.71.

This total basket is well beyond the affordability thresholds of families living on low incomes, the group said, noting that the National Minimum Wage for this same period was R3,487.68.

  • The Pietermaritzburg (KZN) basket was R3,601,38 (core: R1,947.26)
  • The Durban (KZN) basket was R3,731.40 (core: R1,989.96)
  • The Joburg (GP) basket was R3,808.26 (core: R2,112.18)
  • The Cape Town (WC) basket was R3,834.10 (core: R2,159.11)
  • The Springbok (NC) basket was R3,989.84 (core: R2,099.56)

The data shows that there is a ±R100 cost difference between Durban, Joburg and Cape Town. Pietermaritzburg is cheaper by a little over R100 and Springbok, more expensive by a little less than R200. Springbok is an outlier, it being a small town.

The price of the Household Food Baskets across the five areas are relatively similar, given local variances. The data suggests a fairly accurate average cost of a Household Food Basket for families living on low incomes in Joburg, Durban, Cape Town, Springbok and Pietermaritzburg.

The PMBEJD noted that over the last year, social grants have been given top-up values (R500 for child support grants and R250 for old age grants), and a R350 Covid-19 relief grants has been handed out to help vulnerable families during the pandemic.

However, it said that the value of the top-ups and the Covid-19 grant were not enough to assist households absorb the shock, income losses and food price increases brought about by the lockdown.

“Whilst many of the drivers of higher increases on goods and services (especially food) have now been removed, the cost of the household food baskets for low income households is still at a very high base.

“Food prices have not come down off these Covid-19 and lockdown highs; and with the Festive season approaching, food prices are expected to rise. At the same time, transport hikes and electricity tariff hikes have come into play which have exacerbated the household affordability crisis,” it said.

“Job losses, pay cuts, fewer days or hours paid work because of Covid19 and the lockdown, and South Africa’s deteriorating economy, continue to lower income levels.”

It’s for this reason that the group said it would be unwise for government to remove the top-ups and R350 Covid-19 grant at this stage – and even recommended that these changes be made permanent.

“More is required if we are to help families get out of the devastation that Covid19, the lockdown, and the deteriorating economy has wrought.”


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