Maria Khosa. Photo Credit: Thandi Mkhatshwa
“I don’t have money to afford all these things. I am poor,” stressed Maria Khosa. She is a short 63 year-old woman who is wearing a pinafore, and her waist and head are both wrapped around in headscarves. She sits on a bench. Besides her, fruit and vegetables pile up like a mountain. “I have to support my grandchildren, but now we can’t afford to eat bread and drink milk at home anymore because they cost so much!”
With inflation on the constant rise, people in the poverty-stricken area of Acornhoek, South Africa are already shaken by how much less they can put in their grocery trolleys and how much more they have to spend. Inflation is destroying the South African economy, and people are worried. Statistics South Africa revealed that South Africa's annual inflation rate for September 2008 was 13.5%. Food inflation was 18.3%, meaning that necessary household products such as maize meal, milk, eggs, bread and cooking oil have more than doubled over the past few months.
“I used to think my daughter was misusing money whenever I sent her shopping, and she would come back with a few items at a high cost, until I decided to do it on my own,” Maria explained as she shook her head and folded her hands on her thigh. “I was shocked to discover how much things cost! “Now when ever someone visits your home, you worry and ask yourself when is she going to leave because you don’t want anyone else to finish off what you have for your family.”
Unemployment and poverty are two of the biggest challenges people face in Acornhoek. People like Maria, who have little money and the financial responsibility of taking care of families, are the ones who are affected most. Maria is a street vendor who sells bananas, tomatoes, apples and cigarettes, and depends on the little profit she makes in order to support her two grandchildren. “If I now have R700, I can’t buy the same stuff as last year anymore. I have to have R1200, at least, to buy the same stuff to take care of all my family,” she explained.
Maria is not the only one feeling the pinch in her pockets. Nancy Mathebula has been working on a farm for the past eleven years and earns R800.00 a month. As an immigrant from Mozambique, she does not have the required documents to work legally in South Africa. She is a single mother of seven, and her children cannot receive Social Service Grants because they don’t have South African birth certificates.ï¿½ A year ago, she was able to afford a bag of maize meal and a few groceries a month, but now things are different. “ I might as well not be working because my salary gets split up to pay off debts, even before I receive it,” Nancy explained as she rode on a over-crowed 5:30 p.m bus carrying sweaty farm and construction workers from Hoedspruit to Acornhoek. “I don’t get a raise whenever things go up. My children are now going to school on an empty stomach because things are expensive.”
The high cost of food has affected more than just informal workers and the unemployed - even those with stable incomes are complaining. Zoleka Gantso is a schoolteacher who is investing in her children’s education. She has one child in grade 12 at a private school, and another in university. Last year, Gantso was able to afford her children’s education and still give them a little something extra. But now: “I can’t afford to cover my children’s education. I don’t know where I am going to get the money. Even my car is about to be repossessed,” explained the worried Gantso. “The government must fix the situation because we are struggling and the economy of South Africa will be destroyed, just like in Zimbabwe.”
The local businesses have also been affected by inflation. “Inflation is a whole cycle that is taking place worldwide. Over the past four months, people have been spending less money and this affects turnover [of products],” said Paul Booyens, BJ’s store manager. However, he still has good advice for customers. “People must buy wisely. They must look.ï¿½ Shop around for where they can get the best value for their money, also making sure they have money available for necessities.”
The economy in South Africa and many other countries around the world has gone bad. Food and other necessities cost too much. Everyone is affected, rich and poor. No one knows when prices will stable. The only thing that they know - for sure - is that they are going to have to spend more on less.