Doom & gloom: SA's middle class feeling the pinch of rising cost of living

South Africa's middle class is having to make major adjustments as the rising costs of fuel, food prices and interest rates impact their way of life. Some of these families and individuals explain how they've had to adjust to their new way of life.

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JOHANNESBURG - Working-class South Africans say they’ve had to make major adjustments in their lives as they navigate the pressures brought on by the cost of living crisis.

Soaring prices of food, fuel and electricity among other items have been exacerbated by the Ukraine-Russia war, stock market crashes and the COVID-19 pandemic in recent months.

Families and individuals say that they are quickly running out of options as salaries have not grown at the same rate as inflation for many years.

"It's doom and gloom and yet we try and have a happy face - have a couple of beers and a glass of wine - and then we have to wake up tomorrow."

Deidre Phillips (not real surname) said that it had been a harrowing time as she struggled to keep up with the cost of living. But she said that she had also noticed how the crisis has worsened many other spheres of life for everyone.

"Everything changed. I don’t know how I am doing it. I am surviving by the skin of my teeth basically. I’ve been robbed four times at my office. I have been going through a daze in life," she said.

Thirty-seven-year-old Andre Haramse said that he and his wife have had to plan better, down to each litre of petrol used.

READ: Motorists warned to expect massive fuel price hike in June

"You don’t always have a choice to say now I can drive to Pretoria three times a week. No, I can do it once a week because of the fuel prices and the budget. So you have to plan your stuff better to make sure you get everything done in one trip. Obviously being a drinker and smoker, I have had to cut down on all those things," Haramse said.

However, some were already on their last legs due to the COVID-19 pandemic.

Some have told Eyewitness News that they’ve simply had to rearrange everything, down to taking drastic steps to hold on to the shelter over their heads.

"It's become a necessity to huddle together with family to be able to afford food, eat together. My mother has even moved onto the same property as myself because it's easier to get things done as a group. Ja... what else can I say?" one man explained.

EXPLAINER: Why is the price of cooking oil rising and what is the impact on consumers?


Middle-class South Africans say the cost of living crisis has driven them to depression, with thoughts about the future leaving them in a gripping cloak of anxiety.

Many have told Eyewitness News that even the knowledge that others outside of their class bracket are surviving on far less has added to their anguish as they grapple with how to survive every month.

Just last week, FNB said it found that middle-income earners spend about 80% of their income by the fifth day of the month, with economists saying that it points to the desperate financial state many find themselves in as interest rates among other costs climb.

"It's scary. It's scary listening to the news even where you think things are bad and you listen to the news and its gonna get worse," Madikana Phalafala said.

Phalafala is a single parent running a household of four people.

She said that she had already made adjustments from how they ate to how often the geyser could stay on and thinking of further cuts is terrifying.

Andre Haramse finds himself in a similar position.

"What's today? The 19th of May? As we speak, the interest rates have climbed up. We know two weeks from now fuel prices are going up with another R1.50 and we know its not the end of it. That’s why I say I would literally get a nervous breakdown if I think too far ahead and think what might happen," Haramse said.

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Matt Bath said that even how he viewed work had changed.

"You are working to survive, you are not working to reward. It's soured. There is a dark cloud in the way people are looking at the pleasure side of life. That has just fallen away," Bath said.

Last week, Bloomberg quoted Bank of America estimates that showed that petrol and diesel prices would likely increase by 16% in June, with inflation up to 6.5% locally.


People who have in the past considered themselves financially secure said that they were concerned about the increased cost of living and volatility in the global economy.

South Africans are among other nations across the world that are grappling with a cost of living crisis due to various factors, as some economists mention that the dreaded recession could be on the cards.

From debt to cooking oil, consumers are paying more for everything.

The majority of people in the country are concerned about their day-to-day needs such as food and water.

However, even those who are still by far cushioned from the real impact of the economic instability are worried.

"What I worry about the most is that I am not getting the returns that I was supposed to have so that I can live the life I was hoping to live. It just means I have to be cutting costs somewhere around my lifestyle. It's a reality of what is coming rather than what is at the moment," Nkosinathi Ngcobo said.

Nkosinathi Ngcobo spoke to Eyewitness News about how he and his family are adjusting to the cash crunch.

"Do you think being shielded from the reality of the economy makes you privileged?" Eyewitness News asked.

"I know I am privileged, but I am also very in touch with people who are not in the same space as me and I know what people are going through and I know the difficulties. It was easy for me to put a full tank of petrol at any time, but now I always kind of feel it. So I am mindful. I am aware of what those who are not privileged are going through," Ngcobo said.

Deidre Phillips said that she was still far better off in comparison to many other South Africans.

"The financial hit on all of us is massive. Then you look at every street corner there are homeless people. At every traffic light there are four to five people and people are starving and we want to build a flag on a pole?" Phillips asked.

The Southern Africa Labour Development Research Unit said that 50% of South African households have a monthly income of R1,166 or less.