Minister of Trade and Industry, Ebrahim Patel, issued a stern warning to businesses that are hiking prices of goods necessary to help people during this time of fighting COVID-19 or coronavirus.
Patel said the consumer and competition commissions were currently investigating 11 companies after consumers lodged complaints of over exorbitant prices that were increased now that the goods were in high demand. He said there would be harsh punishment for companies that take advantage of people's anxiety about the virus.
“More firms are now being investigated and prosecutions will follow. The penalties are quite sharp. There are fines of a million Rand and fines of 10% of the company's annual turnover and up to a year in jail,” said Patel.
He was among ministers in the Economic Cluster who addressed a press briefing on Tuesday to outline plans to minimize the economic impact of the 21-day lockdown. South Africa starts 21 days of lockdown on Thursday in a bid to curb the spread of the COVID-19 pandemic.
Patel said the regulator will be monitoring prices of basic food,
personal care products, hygiene products like disinfectant, hands sanitizers, cleaning agents as well as key medical supplies like surgical masks amongst others, to ensure that there are no price hikes.
“We have had complaints about individuals and firms increasing prices unjustifiably. The consumer and competition commissions met yesterday [Monday] and are now investigating 11 firms that have been found to be selling products like face masks, hand sanitizers and others at high prices and abusing the situation,” said Patel.
Minister of Agriculture, Thoko Didiza, assured South Africans that the country would have adequate food supply throughout the lockdown.
“We have been working with the industry since last week to establish what are the core elements that need to remain operational and how we protect those workers in those entities. There are measures in place to ensure safe hygiene in all our operations," she said.
Didiza urged South Africans not to stockpile on food because “harvesting will continue uninterrupted” to ensure that there is significant food supply during the lockdown.