For a long time travelling between Zimbabwe and South Africa, I never understood why fellow Zimbabweans still insisted on hoarding groceries from the latter, even after dollarization and the availability of goods in the supermarkets. I was in South Africa over the annual break and had plenty of opportunity to scout the malls with my sister. I always knew clothes were cheaper and options wider down south. But that did not prepare me for the shock I got when I started doing the math in the grocery stores. That said, I never actually understood why my sister always gaped at the prices whenever she was down here, partly because I never made much effort to understand the Rand-USD exchange rate. At some point she would say something like: What?! R50 for yoghurt? In South Africa that is two trays of meat and mealie meal.
I found for instance, that my favourite yoghurt – Nutriday, costs just over a dollar for a six pack. Here, I buy the same for $5 at Spar Athienitis specifically. Also notable was the fact that what costs R10 in Spar Randfontein also cost R10 in a Spar in say, Mpumalanga. In Zimbabwe, it is not uncommon for the Spar chain to have huge margins in the price differences for the same goods.
Upon return to Zimbabwe, I took time out to ask the shop-floor manager of my favourite supermarket how they arrived at some of the prices of goods. He explained something about having to factor in costs of import, vat and other things. I thought if this justifies a $3 dollar jump for yoghurt imported from South Africa, then our local industry ought to see this as an opportunity and improve the quality of local products. Fans of yoghurt for instance will agree with me that Nutriday is smoother, richer and less cloying than Dairiboard’s Yummy – which I have often observed nearing expiry sitting on the shelf while stocks for the former run out as soon as they hit the same shelf.
I have begun to understand why many a Zimbabwean is prepared to suffer the indignity of being taunted by South Africans at the Beitbridge border post for the heavy ‘changaan’ bags full of groceries.
I have always found the staff at Spar very friendly, a big motivation for shopping there. The till operators smile broadly, like they are extremely delighted to see you. Last time I shopped there and got hit with one of those smiles, it crossed my mind that of course, the thought of what I am about to fork out for a handful of groceries would make any retailer smile, bloody rip offs!