Businesses have been warned that price gouging remains illegal under the Disaster Management Act regulations as reports of excessive food prices of up to R90 for a loaf of bread have been reported in some Durban communities.
The KwaZulu-Natal Department of Economic Development, Tourism and Environmental Affairs (EDTEA) said in a statement on Sunday that it had received several consumer complaints regarding alleged price gouging by local businesses.
EDTEA said that it had tasked a team from its Consumer Protection Unit to conduct an investigation into the complaints and that it would not hesitate to take action, which may include fining any businesses found guilty of the practice.
EDTEA MEC Ravi Pillay said: ” This cannot be a time for profit making. We are calling for a patriotic contribution to the national effort to recover and rebuild. Roads, fuel and food security are our immediate tasks. Excessive profiteers are warned that the law provides for severe punishment.”
He warned that the punishment for the crime could also lead to reputational damage for guilty firms.
The gouging of prices is prohibited under the Disaster Management Act regulations.
“We understand that due to the disruption of supply lines, some businesses have had to incur additional costs when transporting goods. However some of the price hikes are allegedly very high and unjustifiable,” he said.
“We appeal to businesses to desist from gouging prices, especially of food items, as this has a bearing on food security.”
However, he said it was also noteworthy that the majority of businesses had rallied behind the ongoing efforts to ensure food security.
“In recent days we have been inspired by many examples of businesses who have partnered with communities to rebuild livelihoods and to assist the poor,” he said.