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Food prices in South Africa in 2021: Joburg vs Cape Town vs Durban

| Economic factors

The Pietermaritzburg Economic Justice and Dignity research group (PMBEJD) has published its latest Household Affordability Index, detailing price changes for basic and essential food items across South Africa.

The January 2021 index shows that a food basket consisting of 44 prioritised food items has increased marginally by 1.2% – or R49 – since December 2020. However, price increases have been sharper – around 5.1% or almost R200 more in the basket – since the index was restructured in September 2020.

According to the PMBEJD, the average household food basket it tracks now costs R4,051 a month.

The basket comprises 44 food items which households in low-income areas have identified as necessary to feed their families in a month.

This research comes in the context of millions of South African households that are still struggling through the Covid-19 pandemic and the long-lasting effects of the national lockdown implemented almost a year ago to combat the spread of the virus in the country.

The lockdown decimated South Africa’s economy and led to record levels of unemployment and businesses closures in the country – while government aid and stimulus have been severely lacking.

Special social grants and the UIF TERS payments have slowly faded, leaving millions of South Africans without money to get by.

At R4,000, the basket is also far higher than what a single-income family on minimum wage (R3,500) can afford, and is out of reach of the 30.4 million people (55.5% of the population) who are living below the upper-bound poverty line of R1,268 per month.

The basket of essential ‘core’ foods only – the food items that are purchased first and are considered non-negotiable – comes in at just under R2,200.

Regional differences

Since September 2020, the PMBEJD has been tracking price differences regionally in South Africa, focusing on major metros like Johannesburg, Cape Town and Durban, along with its home ground of Pietermaritzburg, and Springbok in the Northern Cape, giving a better picture of pricing in more remote areas.

The difference in cost of the total household food basket in Joburg, Durban and Cape Town is consistent at around ±R150, the group noted.

Springbok and Pietermaritzburg tend to be outliers in the data, with Springbok being highest, and Pietermaritzburg being lowest.

A full breakdown of the regional prices is tabled below:


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