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Mon Dec 05 16:29:31 SAST 2016

The Ides of April

Katharine Child | 2016-03-29 00:39:57.0
Over and above these, the prices of many foodstuffs have over the past few months been climbing, driven by inflation and the drought. The poor are the worst hit. File photo
Image by: MIKE HUTCHINGS / REUTERS

In just a few days' time South Africans will feel the real impact of the struggling economy as inflation records a seven-year high, the drought deepens and several everyday items go up in price.

Already, non-governmental organisations are seeing increases in the number of poor South Africans experiencing malnutrition.

Next month, Eskom hikes the price of electricity by 9.4%, petrol and the new fuel levy will cost 80c more a litre and DStv subscription goes up by 8%.

Moreover, the prices of many foodstuffs have over the past few months been climbing, driven by inflation and the drought. The Reserve Bank said last week that inflation had reached 7% in February.

The poor are the worst hit. Already, one in four children go to bed hungry, according to data from the Human Sciences Research Council's National Health and Nutrition Examination Survey.

"We expect life to get much worse for the poor," said Mervyn Abrahams, CEO of the Pietermaritzburg Agency for Community Social Action. "People struggle to get by day to day."

He said there was a pensioner who no longer bought vegetables because they had become too expensive as a result of the drought.

Abrahams said he also knew of a boy receiving food through his school's feeding scheme. He said the boy brought his plastic container to school so he could take his lunch home to feed his three-year-old and five-year-old siblings.

Abrahams said his organisation had calculated that a basket of food containing enough protein and vegetables would cost a family of seven R4239 a month. An average household in Pietermaritzburg survives on R3200 a month .

On the West Rand, activist Cora Bailey said she had seen an increase in the number of hungry people approaching NGOs for food. In one instance, a grandmother approached an NGO with a baby.

"The mom has abandoned the child. The grandmother is [an illegal immigrant] from Lesotho and can't apply for the child support grant. She didn't have money for baby formula. The child looked [unhealthy] and she didn't look too good herself," said Bailey. "I had to split a food parcel for two with four people on Thursday."

"I think we're going to have a food revolution,'' she added.

"When winter comes and people are both cold and hungry, we're going to see huge problems. Honestly, I don't know how people are coping."

Economist Dawie Roodt said the situation looked bleak as more interest rate hikes were likely.

Already, a middle-class family with a R1-million bond faced a R300 increase in monthly mortgage repayment following the recent interest rate hike.

Interest rate hikes, he explained, meant people paid more for their debt and there was less money in the economy.

Less spending caused factories to produce less, which led to retrenchments Roodt added.

Middle-class families face further squeezes, with the petrol price increase at 41c a litre next month. But with increased taxes on fuel, it is likely to cost about 80c more, according to the SA Institute of Race Relations. The institute's Ian Cruickshanks said with the rising food and fuel prices, the government had to realise it had to start spending what it had.

Roodt also said the weakening rand meant imported goods were more expensive. "High unemployment and the high cost of imported goods could be an opportunity for entrepreneurs to create jobs and factories to make things.

''But the government must stop harassing business owners and taxing them to death."

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