South Africa: Call for lower food prices
The South African Communist Party (SACP) has welcomed a call by the Chief Executive Officer of the Shoprite group of companies for suppliers to reduce the price of food products after the recent improvement in the rand- dollar exchange. Calling this "an important step forward in ensuring that food prices can be made affordable", the SACP also stressed that " a sustainable solution is required". South Africa's food price index rose 11.4 per cent in 2001, compared to a rise in non-food prices of 3 per cent. The prices of maize and other basic foods have risen even further since then, devastating the majority of the population. South African workers typically spend more than a third of their income on food. The underlying cause of the soaring price of maize, the SACP says, appears to be not just low supplies, but speculative pricing and concentration of ownership. The benefits of zero taxation on some basic foods are not being passed on to consumers, meaning that producers and retail chains are profiteering at the expence of the poor. For example, in most shops, brown bread, which is exempt from the VAT (value-added tax), costs the same as or more than white bread. In the longer term, says the SACP, high food prices are associated with lower investment in agriculture and stagnant production. The SACP has demanded an end to taxation of basic foodstuffs, arguing that "food prices and the rise in poverty should also be related to the question of a comprehensive social security program". Another SACP initiative will be a door-to-door canvass to help register all those who qualify for state social grants. Many pensioners, disabled persons, orphans, and others who are supposed to receive such grants are simply not registered.