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Consumers under siege



Lemohang Rakotsoane


IN a local supermarket in central Maseru, a man mumbles to himself as he expresses exasperation over the price of cooking oil.

“Oh my God, M50 is so expensive for a bottle of cooking oil, maybe we should just stop using it altogether. Things have become so expensive,” he says.

Consumers are under siege as they battle rocketing food prices. The relentless price increases are creating a siege mentality among consumers.

Teboho Mosola, a father of three who sells pap, moroho (vegetables) and meat in town says things are so bad that he is beginning to lose customers.

A plate of pap and meat which used to sell for M15 in 2012 is now going for M25, an ** percent increase over a period of four years.

“Things started to be shaky from 2012 but from mid last year up to know we have been hit so hard,” Mosola says.

“It has never been like this in the previous 10 years that I have been selling food in the streets.

“Nothing is sold cheap or is affordable anymore. Maize-meal, charcoal, meat, moroho even salt is now expensive,”he says.

The rising costs have now pushed him to increase his price for a plate of pap and moroho.

Mosola says he used to grow vegetables in his backyard garden to cut costs but last year’s drought made things worse for him.

“Now it is just terrible with this harsh weather conditions. We had tried but our plants died,”Mosola says.

He says in the past business would boom during the month-ends, Christmas and Easter holidays. Not anymore, he says.

“Even those who come from South Africa to visit don’t have money. Once they cross the border they go straight home without buying food,” he says.

“Things are just terrible.”

“Locals are now taking lunch boxes to work as they do not have money to spend on things like pap and meat in town. They don’t even have cabbage at home.”

Mosola says after he increased his plate of pap to M25, he finds that he still cannot make ends meet. He still finds he does not have enough to take home at the end of the day.

“I have a daughter who will be sitting for her Form E exams and I have to pay her fees. One is doing Grade 10 and they both need to be provided for in order to perform well but it is so hard especially when even an exercise book is so costly,” he says.

Mosola says he and his fellow street vendors are only able to survive because of their stokvels, which help them to buy stock.

Another street vendor, ’Mathabang Mofo, says she was selling fruits and later changed to vegetables with the hope to increase her take home pay but“this is not a good year”.

“I stopped selling fruits because I realised that I was not progressing (ke hamela letanteng),” Mofo says.

She says fruits easily lose their value when they are kept for long and when they “started losing their freshness people complained saying they were expensive”.

“I would be forced to cut their price and at the end of the day I would not even have enough to buy stock, and then I started selling vegetables,” she says.

“Things are expensive but atleast vegetables have a longer shelf life. When they take too long without being bought, for instance with cabbages, I take off the leaves that are no longer fresh until it is bought,” she says.

“But by doing that I am also forced to slash the price. When they are not bought I can cook them for my family.”

She says of late“we sell things to just keep ourselves busy and not stay at home where we will be tempted to commit crimes”.

Retailers are also feeling the strain.

A Maseru businessman who requested anonymity told thepost that they feel they are being pushed against the wall, with nowhere to run.

“There is nothing we can do. People fail to understand that we are not the ones responsible (for the price increases). Inflation is highand we buy these products at high costs,” he says.

“We cannot sell them cheap.What would be the point of running the business? How would we pay our staff?”

“We sell some products cheap and then increase the prices of other products to cover for that loss so that we can generate turnover for our store,” says one supermarket manager.

“People need to eat so we will stay open but we are not making any money. It is a struggle to pay salaries. This inflation has knocked us down,” adds another.

Those in the clothing sector say they have resorted to operating longer hours, even during weekends and the festive seasons but they are still battling to stay afloat.

This has not resulted in an increase in operating profits though.

Earlier this month, Finance Minister ’Mamphono Khaketla said the Lesotho Revenue Authority (LRA) had failed to meet its target on VAT collections because of the decline in the retail sector.

She said this is because “people have no purchasing power”.

LerataPekane, a partner at the New Dawn Accounting Firm,says VAT only increases when the economy is performing well.

However, currently due to the high inflation rate people do not have enough money to spend on non-essentials.

“Currently, even those working in the factories are not able to work overtime and make extra money to spend on other things apart from essentials because there are no enough orders,”Pekane says.

“Businesses in the retail sector are reluctant to buy stock as it takes longer for the stock to be consumed. Companies don’t have money to pay bonuses or to make promotions as they are barely making ends meet,” he says.

“For the economy to recover we need to attract investors, make developments suitable for business and that can only be achieved if the political climate is stabilised,”he says.

NkarengLetsie,a Programme Director for the Consumer Protection Association, says the value of money has been eroded leaving even those who were on the verge of graduating from lower class to middle class in the same spot.

“For instance,government employees have received a four percent increase while the inflation rate is at 5.6 percent leaving them with a shortfall of 1.6 percent,” Letsie says.

“If they were previously able to buy maize-meal, a bag of cabbages and oil currently they might only be able to buy maize-meal and one other item,”he says.

He adds that if we do not have salary increments that are proportional to the inflation rate people will continue to struggle.

He says one reason that the inflation rate is so high is because Lesotho imports a lot of items instead of producing them and as a result it suffers from imported inflation as well.

“For example, electricity that is produced here is cheaper than the one bought from Eskom and EDM, making the imported one expensive because of the exporter country’s inflation as well,” he says.

“We need to revive the production sector and identify products that we can produce at a low cost and cut on imports. Products that will give us a competitive edge and enable exportation and make more money, until then it will not be easy to stimulate our economy,”Letsie says.

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