Monday | 23 March | 2020
By Reon Janse van Rensburg
All over the world people rushed to shops and stripped shelves of products in a state of panic. These purchases were fuelled by a hysteria even when major shopping chains had assured the public that there would not be shortages of food or other general necessities. One cannot help but wonder whether South Africans who have filled their shopping trollies to the brim were not worried about the shops closing during the course of the pandemic as the coronavirus spreads rather than being worried about the availability of stocks.
The empty shelves have left many people who live from day to day or from month to month, and who do not have the income immediately available to buy the products they need daily very unhappy.
Some retail stores have also abused the situation to take advantage of the current state of affairs.
Following the Covid-19 outbreak, government has published new regulations banning price increases of various products.
The regulations and directions for consumer and customer protection were issued on Thursday under the Disaster Management Act.
The regulations apply to goods and services related to basic food and consumer goods, emergency services and products, as well as medical supplies.
The regulations have been imposed to protect consumers from unfair and unreasonable commercial practices during the corona pandemic.
Businesses are also prohibited from charging excessive prices to the detriment of consumers. This includes substantial price increases for various products. If there is a price increase, it must correspond with the increase in the cost of providing the product or service.
Retailers may also not increase the net margin or profit margin on the listed products above the average margin of these products in the three-month period prior to 1 March.
Violations of these regulations can have serious consequences. Some fines can amount to R1 million, or up to 10% of a company’s turnover, or offences could even incur imprisonment of up to a year.
The regulations require suppliers to take reasonable measures to ensure the fair distribution of products to consumers and businesses.
Products on the list:
- Tinned, frozen and fresh meat, as well as chicken and fish
- Cooking oil
- Toilet paper
- Hand sanitiser
- Surgical masks
- Surgical gloves
- Bottled water
- Disinfectants and cleaning products
- Antiseptic fluids
- Facial masks
- Cleaning agents for all uses
- Baby formula
- Disposable nappies
- Maize meal
- Long-life milk
- Tinned and frozen vegetables
According to Trade and Industry Minister Ebrahim Patel, the regulations are based on a partnership model that requires chain stores and wholesalers to take sensible and responsible steps.
Patel also announced that the National Consumer Commission has introduced a toll-free number as from Thursday which members of the public can use to report unfair price increases.
The number is 0800 014 880.
* All information was correct at the time of publication.