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South Africa: "Before I got money, but now it's gone."

(By Craig Timberg -- The Washington Post)

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Sunday, June 8, 2008

Steven Masilela, 36, has a small vegetable stand in Randburg, a working-class section of Johannesburg. The soaring cost of food has cut his daily profits in half, from about $40 a day to $20.

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"It's bad," he said. "Before I got money, but now it's gone."

Masilela's business is suffering because the rising prices are increasing his costs, including for stock and transportation, and keeping his customers away.

He starts his day at a food market in Pretoria, where he buys tomatoes, potatoes, grapes, peppers, bananas and apples.

The fruit and vegetables are spread on tables in front of him at his stand, but when customers hear the prices, they are as likely to complain as buy something.

A bag of spinach that was 25 cents last year is now 50 cents. Bananas once sold for 7 cents but now are 13 cents and soon will be 16 cents. A bunch of grapes has gone from 50 cents to 65 cents.

Altogether, he used to spend about $25 for his daily stock; now it often costs twice that.

The timing is not good. Masilela's girlfriend is pregnant, and though he wants to marry her, he's having trouble raising the bride price, called lobola here.

In the past, his profit "was a lot of money, but now things changed."

-- Craig Timberg

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