South Africans have been urged to not flood the supermarkets to stockpile on food following the announcement that the country will be under a national lockdown from Friday morning.
Despite assurances by President Cyril Ramaphosa on Monday evening that all businesses that supply basic goods and food supply chains would not be disrupted due to the 21-day lockdown, some South Africans still rushed to supermarkets starting from the moment he stopped speaking.
Ramaphosa’s announcement came after confirmed cases of people with Covid-19 rose to 402. The number now sits at 554 and is expected to rise, only slowing down in the coming weeks as the impact of the lockdown takes hold.
There is enough food
During the 21-day period that is expected to protect millions of South Africans from infection and thousands from possible death, citizens will be expected to remain at home unless they provide essential health, security and financial and communication services. The list of essential service providers includes supermarkets, spaza shops and other basic goods shops where people will have the freedom to go during the lockdown period.
In a briefing by the economic cluster ministers in the national command team, Minister of Agriculture, Land Reform and Rural Development Thoko Didiza and Trade and Industry Minister Ebrahim Patel reiterated the message that there would be no food shortages and the only disruption that will be experienced would be due to the shock purchases that are currently underway.
Didiza stated categorically that no forms of agricultural food production will be compromised, including support functions such as veterinary and advisory services.
“Export and imports of critical agricultural commodities, and logistical measures will continue during the lockdown period to ensure that there is global and local food security,” she said.
“This is not limited to local retailers but to the entire food chain, from farm-related operations, agro-processing and food manufacturing logistics [to the] wholesale and retail sector.”
The department has also set aside R1.2 billion for a package that will be used to address the effects of Covid-19 and ensure sustainable food production after the pandemic has been contained.
“The country has sufficient food supplies,” she said, adding that panic buying will only cause disruption and inconvenience in the food system.
Serious consequences for price hikes
Didiza said South Africa is self-sufficient when it comes to food production and that regular updates will be made on crop estimations to inform the public on the levels of supply as well as to curb unnecessary price inflations
Food price monitoring will also be conducted on critical foods basket commodities and reports will be given to the nation on a regular basis.
The pricing of basic foods, personal care products, and hygiene and medical supply products will also be monitored closely by the Competition and Consumer Commissions.
Patel said that these two commissions are already investigating 11 firms that have been flagged by consumers for unjustifiably increasing prices on face masks and hand sanitisers.
“More firms are now being investigated and prosecutions will follow,” said Patel.
The possible sanction for a company that is found to be abusing the crisis for financial gain ranges from a penalty of R1 million, a fine of up to 10% of turnover, and/or a year in jail.
Other measures to assist the food sector include R100 million in funding from the Land Bank for farmers that are in distress.