PACSA Monthly Food Price Barometer: July 2015

This Women’s Month instead of ‘celebrating’ women; can we remove the economic burden off their shoulders?

As Women’s Month ends, the Pietermaritzburg Agency for Community Social Action’s (PACSA) July Food Price Barometer picks up on a type of violence often unspoken:  the structural economic violence of poverty and injustice borne by women every day. Following the broom into the workplace, women’s work is undervalued. In a context of very low wages, theirs is the lowest paid work. Despite this, women hold families together: children are getting fed and going to school. How they are able to do it on the little money they earn is based on a mix of savviness, ingenious debt management and complex social relationships and organisation. This Women’s Month can we suspend the ‘celebration’ and instead remove some of the economic violence?

According to The Labour Research Service (2015)[1] the lowest median minimum wage according to sectoral determinations is in the domestic sector, where workers earn R1 631 per month. The Expanded Public Works Programme which employs the most vulnerable workers, mostly women, provides a wage of R1 819 per month. Farm workers earn R2 420; workers in the hospitality industry earn R2 749 per month; contract cleaners earn R2 810 a month and private security workers R3 037 a month. These sectors, where mostly women are employed, earn less than the industry median wage of R3 600. The gender wage gap between men and women is R900 a month (R3 500 for men vs. R2 600 for women).  Many of the women earning low wages support families on these single incomes.

Whatever happens in the broader socio-economy has an impact on women because women take responsibility for families. Job losses, high unemployment levels, low wages, low social grants, high food prices, electricity and transport costs; and increasing costs of educating children are all more heavily borne by women. By right women should not be able to shoulder such excessive levels of burden. But they do. The gap between what women earn and the needs of families is being met. It is however, increasingly evident that women are not holding families together on money earned, either through employment, grants or small local ‘entrepreneurship.’ Women are holding families together through extraordinary savviness in accessing goods and services, through their ingenuity in managing debt and through complex social relationships and organisation.

Child Support Grants [CSG] are critical in supporting children. They are excellently targeted and well used. In February 2015, National Treasury raised the CSG by R10, a 3.1 percent increase from R320 to R330. A few weeks prior to this Statistics South Africa rebased South Africa’s poverty lines. The food poverty line (the lowest threshold) was rebased from R321 to R335 (at 2011 figures). In 2014, the food poverty line was estimated at R400 per person per month (Statistics South Africa, 2015). The CSG is less than the food poverty line. The South African Government leading much of the hullabaloo around Women’s Day celebrations chose to increase the CSG by R10 this year. Not even enough to buy one extra loaf of bread a month. The PACSA Minimum Nutritional Food Basket for July 2015 tracks the price of food to feed a small child between the ages of 3-9 years a nutritional diet for a month at R480.15; food for a teenage boy costs R609.73.  This is just food. Women have to find the means to bridge the food gap, clothe their children, transport them to school and pay for schooling.

When we asked women participating in focus groups on food prices how they are able to feed their children and send them to school when incomes are so low we typically get a lot of laughing and theatrical magic wand waving. “Look,” they tell us, “it is no great mystery. We love our children. We will do whatever it takes. The short answer you are looking for is amashonisa (loan sharks). The longer answer is amashonisa and that we are blady clever. They keep telling us we don’t know how to spend; we don’t know how to save.  We need to be educated … ha!  The truth is if any of those economists, those finance people, if those people ever even bothered to come and speak with us. To really listen like you are. They will see that we are the best economists, the best financial managers you have ever seen. Let them come here. Come be us mothers with children and see how they get through even just one day” (Focus Group, Madiba Pietermaritzburg, 24 August 2015).

If nothing else, Women’s Month calls us to have a deeper discussion around structural economic violence. Food is a way out of poverty and our economy must be transformed to ensure that mothers are able to feed their children on the monies they are able to secure. Our social security system must be a vehicle to lift people out of poverty and protect people from moving into it.  Currently, it does neither; and it is women who carry this burden. 

Appendix 1:  Notes and References for Affordability Table 6

Total household income
We have selected 5 total household income scenarios:
Household A:
R1 410 = 1 old-age pension (National Treasury, 2014.  Budget Speech: 13).
Household B:
R2 362 = the average minimum wage set by the Employment Conditions Commission across sectoral determinations for 2014 was R2 362.36.
Household C:
R3 200 was selected because 60 percent (98 680) of all Pietermaritzburg households earn between zero and R3 200 a month (STATSSA, Census 2011). This total household income figure provides for 1 employed member receiving minimum wages (earning R1 200 – R2 000 a month), see URL with the additional income found by unemployed members through alternative and insecure means.
Household D:
R4 660 is the average monthly consumption expenditure for Black South African Households (STATSSA, 2012).
Household E:         
R8 000 is where we think the national minimum wage should be located if households are to have the possibility of accessing a basic level of dignity.

Burial insurance
This figure of R200 presents basic family burial insurance costs for a low-income household registered with insurance companies which serve the low-income market (2014). Burial insurance has been included as an essential and prioritised expense because interviews with households reveal that burial insurance is typically paid before any other expense and very seldom defaulted as a mechanism to ensure food is secured. 
Electricity and water
The electricity cost is calculated on 350kWh per month.  This is the average consumption for low-income households in Pietermaritzburg.  We use the prepaid electricity tariff of R1.45 per kWh because prepaid meters are installed in the homes of low-income households. The 2015/16 rand value is R507.50 per month (excluding transport and time costs of buying tokens). Households on prepaid meters in Pietermaritzburg are excluded from accessing free basic electricity.
The water expense is calculated on a fixed monthly charge for a non-metered household. This is a typical scenario for low-income households living in RDP housing in Pietermaritzburg. The 2015/16 charges on an unmetered water supply is R82.45 per month (includes VAT).The figure in the table (R589.95) is the sum of electricity and water.
Transport costs
The transport cost is calculated for a household living outside the CBD, given that apartheid geography has not changed and low-income Black African households still live outside the CBD and far from places of work. It is calculated on 1 kombi trip at R11 or R22 return (Pietermaritzburg kombi charges, July 2014). 

The R660 is calculated as follows: 

20 trips to work [20 X R22 = R440] + 5 trips to town for work/study /shopping/church etc. [5 X R22 = R110] + 1 long distance trip (we use Durban as the destination) [1 X R110].


  • This figure has been derived from a focus group, it has its basis in the experience of women with children; it provides the possibility for stationery (± R500 per annum);
  • Carlton paper and toilet paper (R50 once or twice a year); School fees (± R250 once or twice a year);
  • School computer access (± R100 a month); and
  • Contribution to transport costs.

Communication and media

This figure is arbitrary; it provides R150 per household per month – for newspapers, airtime, photocopying, etc.
Clothing and footwear
This figure is arbitrary; it provides roughly R1 000 each for each member in a family of five. The annual figure of R5 000 is divided by 12 months to give R416.66 per household per month.  Note that for children, the R1 000 allocated may cover school clothes and shoes for a year but will exclude other clothes worn at home.
Domestic and household hygiene products
This figure presents the monthly price of personal and domestic hygiene products tracked through PACSA’s barometer. This data and the products tracked were reweighted from October 2014.

Personal hygiene products tracked include:

Toilet paper [1ply x 20 rolls], bath soap [200g x 6],
toothpaste [100ml x 3], sanitary pads [pack of 10 x 2],
Vaseline [250ml x 2], face & body cream [big bottle x2],
roll-on [normal x 4], spray deodorant [big sprays x2],
shoe polish [100ml x1]. 

Domestic hygiene products tracked include: 

dishwashing liquid [750ml x1], washing powder [2kg x1],
green bar soap [bars x4], toilet cleaner [750ml x 1],
kitchen cleaner [750ml x1] and jik [750ml x1].

Cultural obligations

This figure is arbitrary; it provides R350 per month - includes monies for contributions to funerals, weddings, religious and cultural ceremonies, and possible intra and inter family and community financial assistance.

The Pietermaritzburg Agency for Community Social Action (PACSA) is a faith-based social justice and development NGO that has been in operation since 1979.  PACSA operates in the uMgungundlovu region of KwaZulu-Natal, South Africa and focusses on socio-economic rights, gender justice, youth development, livelihoods and HIV and AIDS. Our work and our practice seek to enhance human dignity. We are convinced that those who carry the brunt of the problem must be a part of the solution – at the heart of PACSA’s core strategy is the notion “nothing about us without us.”

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