It’s been well over a year since life, as we knew it pre-Covid, got back to normal, but one thing’s certain; the economic impact of the pandemic on the average Motswana is still evident.
A sharp rise in the cost of food, fuel/public transport fares and rentals — against the backdrop of high unemployment, stagnant wages and significantly low or cautious spending – means that this Easter holidays there will be no Easter eggs and adventure travels as an average Motswana struggles to get her basic needs met.
In this conversation with women across the city, Boitumelo Maswabi finds out just how tough the going is getting.
Charity Phodiso, 35, Mahalapye
I am struggling to make profit in my business. Even prior to government reverting to the 14% value added tax effective 1st April, prices have been going up almost weekly.
But wholesalers have increased their prices even way more than 2%. As a street vendor, it’s impossible to hike prices because I have to stay competitive.
If I dare increase, I’ll definitely lose customers to another vendor down the road because their prices are more attractive. Sometimes I’m forced to stock up on popular items, which might not necessarily be profitable, just to ensure I have a satisfactory flow of customers, in the hope that they’ll pick something else while here.
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It always works best that way. For example, I used to buy these chips for P38 – just last year — now they cost a whopping P54! Where I used to make a profit of around P25, I now get P2. I believe big wholesalers are taking advantage because they realise these particular items are in high demand.
This is very discouraging for small business owners. Government should have extended the VAT reduction because we’re yet to fully recover from the Covid crisis, otherwise it’s going to put many out of business.
Schools closed today, so that’s a further decline in profits since my biggest clients are school going children.
Keleboge Bafenyi, 28, Maun
Selling second-hand clothing used to be quite profitable but not anymore, partly because everyone is now careful to avoid unnecessary spending. A bale of clothes used to cost around P2 500 but now I buy it for P5k.
Meanwhile, our prices remain the same because buyers will not accept an increase as their priorities are on food and rent; clothes are pure luxury. Business is very slow compared to 3 years ago when I started.
But one cannot give up, I keep trying because it’s better than sitting at home. I still stay at home so I can afford other stuff, like paying for a French course I am currently doing.
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However, I wish I could do more to earn more. My advice is for young people to be bold enough to go into any business just to have some semblance of progress and independence, as well as to be able to help at home.
We’re not going to be young forever, so government must also hasten to prioritise this generation.
Boitshoko Alec, 43, Butale
I’ve been running this tuck shop since October 2019. Life has been tough but it looks like it’s only going to get tougher, especially for the informal sector and us women.
I hardly manage to pay rent, let alone afford food or transport fares for my school-going children.
You will recall that BHC, from 2020, increased rentals twice and had threatened a third increase this year.
Taxi operators will soon hike their prices, vegetables, which we used to resell, are either unavailable or expensive.
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Some of the fast-selling items in the tuck-shop are the 250ml bottle of oil and smallest packet of chips.
Customers can only afford this P20 bottle of oil, and not this 2l one for P65 and even Standard 1 kids as young as 6 complain that their favourite chips are expensive, that should give you a clear picture that everyone is affected. Government must do something about this situation.
Abigail Sefhore, 26, Maun
Things are looking bad. Government must be cognizant of the fact that private sector salaries are stagnant while the civil service enjoys increments.
With a shop assistant’s salary, I am forced to rethink my spending. I plan to get a housemate because my landlord has upped the rent after installing a shower in my one-bed house.
I can say I’m relatively stable but that’s not to say the high cost of living doesn’t affect me because transport fares will be increased soon. It’s unfortunate that I cannot even open a savings account.
I have joined motshelo to supplement my income. The issue of VAT must be revisited, it only benefits the government. I wish to have a child but I’m discouraged.
Galebolae Tubego, 44, Mogoditshane
I was smart to buy enough food to last me until the end of May, before the VAT went back to 12%, but things aren’t looking good at all.
Everything is expensive, it’s scary; there’s just not enough money for anything.
Charity Dikobamelo, 25, Gaborone
I am a hairdresser. Nowadays business is bad; in a day, I get an average of 4 customers, but most of them can’t afford our prices so we end up negotiating.
This affects my ability to save because the little money I make, I spend almost on a daily basis buying food because my children have to eat.
Of course we buy combos, but throughout the month one has to supplement that with other food items, especially when one has children. Life has become too unmanageable.
Rentals are also exorbitant. As if that’s not enough, taxi association is said to planning a fares hike, but thankfully I live in Old Naledi where we still pay P5.
Actually, Naledi people would rather walk hence transport owners are forced to discount their fares.
Itireng Moruakgomo, 60, Mochudi
I am a farmer, and prefer the rural life because at least I can till the land and not have to buy all the food I consume. Even so, farming can be rather depressing owing to unreliable rains and generally erratic and harsh weather; the sun has killed my crops, so harvest was really low this season.
If it’s not the sun that farmers contend with, it is the heavy rain. This government scheme to assist farmers is only benefitting and empowering tractor owners they’ve engaged to farm for us because they do get paid. As for the humble farmer, he or she stands to lose.
Government may as well discontinue the scheme altogether. Then there’s the nyeletso lehuma scheme, I registered years back, but they turned me down. I also heard that some Batswana are given rams and bulls, how does one qualify for those? I only recently turned 60, and started earning tandabala.
What can one do with P600 really? Why not a thousand at least … bearing in mind the ever-increasing price of food? Only 2 of my children are working, and I try not to burden them much with expectations to help me. They have their children to raise, lest they become delinquents.
Anonymous, 65, Bikwe ward -Manyana
Botshelo bo a re kgerisa, bogolo jang rona bomme (Life is bullying us, especially us women). Women are grappling with the high cost of living because we have children and grandchildren to take care of.
What compounds our problems is the reality of sharing one’s pension with already struggling adult children, some of whom have been unemployed for years. I own a cleaning company but I struggle to win tenders; I suspect prospective clients favour youth businesses, I really don’t know.
Things have become very expensive, in fact I nearly fainted when I saw just how costly this month’s grocery was; I had to look twice at the till slip because I only walked out of the shop with a few grocery bags.
Relish has become such luxury! Next year, we’ll be heading towards the 2024 elections and, once again, we will vote for people to enrich themselves; quite literally, it’s a case of the unemployed masses giving a few individuals the now rare opportunity for employment… how ironic!
Patience Ncube, 32, Zimbabwe
I’ve been in Botswana for a year, working as house help. I find it pretty difficult to feed my 2 young children considering my meager salary of just P1300. I usually buy combos for grocery but before the end of the month, I am forced to buy again.
Meat is so expensive, but we have to eat; what can we do? It’s tough!