Living life below the breadline

Noluvuyo Jukucwana (33) and her husband Mnoneleli (42) depend on the child support grants they receive for their five children to make ends meet.

The family would welcome paying 15% less for their monthly essentials.

Last week a panel of experts appointed by Treasury recommended that South Africa drop the VAT on white bread and flour, sanitary pads, school uniforms and nappies. The panel was appointed to propose ways to soften the blow of the hike in VAT this year from 14% to 15%.

The Jukucwanas, who live in a small homestead in Magcakeni village near Libode, Eastern Cape, said they find it difficult to survive with the ever-increasing food prices. And life had worsened by the one percentage point increase in VAT.

Both Noluvuyo and Mnoneleli are unemployed. Four of their children attend school and their youngest son, one-year-old Thembani, is still in nappies. The other children are Zizipho (17), Siyanda (11), Lukhanyo (6) and Khanya (5).

This year Noluvuyo spent a lot of money on school uniforms for Zizipho, including R150 on a skirt, a jersey for R80, a shirt for R70 and R120 on school shoes. On Siyanda and Lukhanyo she spent R700 on their school uniforms, which included school shoes.

Because the couple receives a R400 child support grant for each of the five children, they make R2 000 a month.

It is the family’s only income.

Noluvuyo said she could have done with the R168 saving had the uniforms been zero-rated.

She said they spend more than R1 000 on groceries each month and, to make sure they have enough food to last the month, they buy in bulk. They seldom buy meat, which growing children need for protein.

Their shopping list features 25kg flour for R180; 25kg mealie meal for R180; 10kg rice for R75; 12.5kg sugar for R200; 5 litre cooking oil for R80; 5 litre juice concentrate for R80; 10kg samp for R60; 5kg beans for R100; R200 on baby formula; 500g salt for R6; 400g peanut butter for R25; 2kg of chicken for R55; and 1kg margarine for R25.

Noluvuyo said they pay R120 towards a burial society scheme each month for the entire family and can spend only about R50 on electricity which lasts them four days. For sanitary towels she spends about R30 a month for a pack of 20. A further R200 goes on a pack of 100 nappies.

Had the cake flour, sanitary pads and nappies been zero-rated, the family would have saved R61.50. And, if the baby formula and chicken had been zero-rated – which the Treasury committee decided against – the family would have saved R99.75.

Noluvuyo said she would like more items to be zero-rated to make them more affordable.

“Nowadays it is almost impossible to live without a cellphone and to use it you need airtime.

“If government can do the same on airtime, electricity and maybe on things – such as taxi fares – when we visit the hospital for instance,” she said.

Meat and milk were unaffordable, she said.

“Even now I am relying only on breast-feeding; we don’t have any form of milk in the cupboards even though we would love to do so,” she said.

Noluvuyo said if she didn’t have to pay VAT, she would be able to save money for essentials.

She is now selling loose cigarettes and chips and a saving on VAT would mean she could save to open a spaza shop to generate extra income.

She would also like to buy seeds and plant vegetables in the garden, something she cannot afford.

“You would have noticed that I did not mention vegetables or fruit in our monthly groceries. It is because we don’t buy them. We simply cannot a afford to do so, hence I am saying with the money we would be able to save I would buy seedlings so that we could plant carrots, cabbages and potatoes because we need those items in our diet but we can’t have them,” Noluvuyo said.