Just last year Tyrone Valoyi earned more than enough as an electrician to feed his wife and seven children a hearty dinner of chicken and gravy several times a week.

He still has his job, but now they are lucky to get meat once a month.

Skyrocketing food prices over the past year have many South Africans who once made a decent living struggling to feed their families.

"I have to rely on handouts from people," says Valoyi, whose family lives in a two-room tin shack in Diepsloot, a township just outside Johannesburg.

Although this country has been relatively unscathed by a drought that has been partly blamed for a hunger crisis in six nearby nations, poor South Africans are facing a crisis of their own.

Food prices have doubled and, for some goods, tripled since last January. The increases have been particularly steep for staples such as corn meal that are a good part of the diet of the poor.

The surge has been blamed in part on the depreciation of South Africa's currency, the rand, and also on the huge increase in demand for grain because of the food shortages in the six neighboring countries.

While those who've long been without jobs continue their daily struggle to survive, it is the working poor who suddenly find themselves confronted with bitter lives that they worked so hard to avoid.

Valoyi now spends more than two-thirds of his monthly pay of 2,800 rand ($280) -- well above what many poor earn -- to buy corn meal, milk and vegetables for his family.

To afford even that, Valoyi has had to cut back on other necessities. Instead of paying the equivalent of 80 cents a day to take a minibus to work, the 58-year-old walks an hour each way.

At an upscale supermarket in a wealthy northern suburb of Johannesburg, Patricia Langa, 25, buffed a glass case containing apricot truffles and other delicacies she could never afford.

The sole breadwinner for her family of six, Langa said buying food takes 70 percent of the $85 she earns a month as an assistant baker. She struggles to stretch the $25 left over to pay for clothes, health care, school fees and other items for two adults and four children.

"My mother is out of work, and I have to spend so much money on food. It's really hurting," Langa said.

In a country where more than 30 percent of the population is unemployed, many are much worse off than Langa.

Reacting to calls for help, South Africa's government agreed to increase social aid, but only a slight boost in the monthly child support grant -- from $13 to $14. It said it would look into setting up grain reserves to offset potential price spikes in the future.

The government also announced a plan by private companies to offer 1,000 tons of corn meal a month at nearly half price.

The measures have received a mixed reception. Business leaders were relieved the government did not institute price controls or subsidies that might damage the market, but many poor people feel the government is not doing nearly enough.

"If the government really wants to help us, it should subsidize all basic foods, including milk and potatoes, and it should make the child support grant a little higher," said Cleophas Khumalo, 30, a clerical worker.

Government officials say South Africans must learn to rely on themselves and should look into starting community vegetable gardens.

"We want to promote self-sufficiency and a sustainable economy through agricultural and economic initiatives," said Nana Zenani, spokeswoman for the agriculture department.

In the meantime, many of the working poor are growing more frustrated at a country where a small percentage of people control so much of the wealth.

"These programs might help people a little, but nothing will really change for us," Valoyi says. "The rich will stay rich and the poor will stay poor."