Excessive pricing on basic food items slammed as unjustifiable
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DURBAN- The excessive pricing of basic food items cannot be justified especially during times of disaster, the president of the Durban Chamber of Commerce said on Tuesday, in the wake of steep increases by some retailers across KwaZulu-Natal after last week’s civil unrest.
“The Durban chamber believes price inflation is not justified especially in times like these. It goes without saying that prices must be fair, and businesses must adhere to the Competition Commission’s Competition Act,” Nigel Ward told the African News Agency (ANA) on Tuesday.
“Prices are determined through various market related factors (but) as mentioned by MEC (member of the provincial executive council) Ravi Pillay, price gouging was prohibited under the Disaster Management Act regulations.”
“Furthermore, the Competition Act 89 of 1998 and the Consumer Protection Act 68 of 2000 also address price gouging and excessive increases,” Ward added.
The sharp increases come in the aftermath of looting and vandalism which rocked shopping centres and other businesses and warehouses in the KZN and Gauteng provinces, having started off as protests over the imprisonment of former president Jacob Zuma after he was found guilty of contempt by the Constitutional Court.
The looters also burnt major food warehouses, leaving retailers and supermarkets unable to restock their shelves and resulting in excessive price hikes for basic food items such as bread, milk and vegetables. This has seen consumers paying up to R40 for a loaf of bread, compared with the usual rough average of R15.
A fresh produce wholesaler in Chatsworth, who did not want to be named, said only the prices of onions and pineapples could be justifiably high at this point, due to factors such as the current ban on alcohol sales under Covid-19 restrictions -- which has fuelled demand for pineapples to make home made brews -- and a shortage of growth fertilizers.
“There are a couple people that have stalls that have been kicking their prices to make more money. It's not everyone though, just a couple people that want to make a quick buck before things go back to normal. Besides onions and pineapples, everything should be the same price,” she told ANA on Tuesday.
While acknowledging healthy business practices such as competitive pricing, Ward said retailers should apply fair and market-related prices, saying the effects of gouging could be felt throughout the economy, particularly in lower income areas.
“Price gauging will simply make it unaffordable for citizens to purchase essential goods and services. This will slow down economic recovery and rebuilding the economy,” he said.