The rest of us, over here. Over here with the street-sleeper, the bin-forager; the last-cent-scrounger, the can’t-take-any-more. This is for the other 97% of us. The desperate, the dirt-poor, the can-barely-make-it and the fuck-where-does-all-the-money-go. We, the Ninety-Seven. The Ordinary People, the Great Unwashed, the proles, the dole-queuers. The working-stiff gets-home-late. The people you walk past in the street, see pushing a trolley at Pick n Pay, get stuck behind in rush-hour traffic. The too-much-slog for not-enough-pay, the way-too-much-debt and never-enough-left-in-the-bank. The how-will-we-pay-the rates, the medical aid, the car, the lights, the school, the HP, the lay-by. The rent, the bond.
We’re all together in this now, we Ninety-Seven. The Them are few, the Us are many. Is there strength in numbers? Nah. The small number has it. Almost always. But we have our wiles and we need to find the courage and the nous to use them.
We, the 97%, are not only black South Africans, we cover the entire spectrum. We’re black, we’re white, we’re coloured, we’re Indian. We have way more in common than so many people seem to realise. We’re united in debt. We have a common struggle against the ever growing mountain of things that we need or want but can no longer afford. Some of the Ninety-Seven once could afford this. Or that. Some more than others. But that was then. Now we skimp, all of us, but we don’t save. Whatever comes in, more goes out. We’re drained, and being drained. And something’s got to give.
It’s time for us to organise, comrade citizens. To use the little might that we have. The might in our pockets. We have to organise against the grabbers, the takers, the movers-and-shakers. We have to resist the price-pusher-upper, the screwer of us into the ground. And there is a way. It’s subtle, but it can be effective. The equivalent of a go-slow, a work-to-rule, in the workplace to get the message to the bean-counters that we the Ninety-Seven do have a voice and we have ways to make ourselves heard. Because we can.
We need to resist the high price, defy the “unavoidable” increase. We need to make a stand against the “unfortunately, try as we might we find ourselves unable to avoid an increase in our fees”. To dismiss with contempt the passing of the buck. The actual passing of the actual buck. The passing of their problem onto our shoulders.
We have a right not to buy the thing that costs too much in order for the Three Percent to get even richer or at least avoid the slippery slide that leads to even Three-Percenters suddenly becoming Ninety-Seveners. Lord forbid.
I’ve been doing it for a month now. Not by design, but because there’s no alternative. I buy only the lowest-priced meat, the special offer grocery. The cheap cuts, the reduced-to-sell. I’m revelling in the brisket and the shin, the lowly bargain bin. And I’m having fun.
Leave the lamb shank and the beef fillet to rot. Ignore the free-range, the luxury cut, the best-end, the expensively-imported. Let them moulder in the fridges, let them crawl miserably past their sell-by dates until the fridges are emptied not into trolleys but into garbage trucks.
Leave the butter unbought, the duck fat unsold. And you, you Three Percenters with a social conscience, all five of you, join us in our struggle against the mightily-moneyed. But probably not. Off you go. We see you see you as you scurry into your Merc or BMW and make off hurriedly; we see you avert your eyes from us like you do when you drive past Khayelitsha or Diepsloot.
#CheeseMustFall! The prices must come down, and if they won’t, we need to force them down. #EggsMustFall! #ButterSugarandCoffeeMustFall. #ChickenBeefandfriggingLambMustFall!
Because if they don’t come down, we’re all going down. To a man, woman and soon-to-be-barefoot child.
And here’s the joke. The little social irony. Some of the finest foods beloved of the fine-dining set, the Dolce Vita, the Beau Monde, the Beautiful Things, are made of the ingredients those Three Percenters ignore at the lower-caste end of the ShopRite fridge. The liver, the kidney, the chuck, the shin; a French chef makes wonders of them.
The cheap cuts in the fridges at Pick n Pay (with their profits sufficient to revamp every branch in the land, gorgeously but, hey, not for a pennyfarthing, this while we struggle to get by) often carry more flavour than the bland beef fillet or the outrageously priced venison bought from a farmer who shot the beast himself because he needed to cull them anyway. And then he thought, I reckon Woolies will give me eighty bucks a kilo for this and they’ll sell them for one-sixty. Or maybe two-hundred. And he won’t care because he’s all right Jack. And that’s how Three Percenters think, the rent-seeking sods.
So let’s defy them. Because if an ordinary old supergrocer like Pick n Pay has some of its meat prices edging towards the two-hundred mark, we should really start to worry. If mutton chops – mutton, not lamb – have hit R100 a kilo, and lamb loin chops are costing you R140 a kg, and even the bulk braai pack of lamb chops is going for R89, there’s no hope of most of us making it. If chicken breast fillets are R70 a kilo, whole chickens are upwards of R50 a kg (not a whole chicken, just 1kg of it), and a chicken braai pack – a flippin’ braai pack – sets you back R64 a kilo, it’s time to resist. Enough already. Beef neck? R65. Mince (mince!), R67. Regular wors R65 to R70. Minute steak R96. Minute steak! Don’t even look in the sirloin and rump part of the fridge.
And cheese. Cheese! That old school lunch staple. Even the cheap cheddar and gouda sets you back a small fortune. No. No more. Heed my call: #CheeseMustFall!
Sure, economics work the way they do, and we understand the trickle-down, we get that if the price of fuel goes up it impacts on pretty much everything. We might not be rich but we’re not stupid. We get that you have to think of your bottom line, yadda yadda yadda.
Well, to hell with your bottom line. We’re gonna make that your problem from now on, instead of you making it ours, and we’re gonna look to our own bottom line. Because we’ve had enough and we’re going to find a way to resist you. Because we’re South African, we’re bolshy and we know how to organise. And because we can.
Enough of the salaries of the fatcats never going down even a tiny bit. Of them retaining their criminally inappropriate perks. Enough of it always, always, being the Ninety-Seven who must take up the slack, who must bite the bullet and feel the pain and the pinch.
So let’s send them a message. Let’s say No More. Let’s put our foot down, the one with the modestly-priced shoe on it from Pep Stores, and say NO. No: You need to do your bit, you need to find other ways to cut your costs so that you can price things in a way that will keep us buying your products. And until you do, we’re going for the cheap cuts, the bargain bin and the last-of-the-season.
So that to get us to buy your stuff you’ll have to cut the prices of more and more things and draw our attention to them with your sale signs and your red “reduced” stickers. And if we see your competitor responding to our call more generously and effectively than you, then, well, we’re upping sticks and we’re cruising across the road to shop there. Because we can.
Let the expensive new cars sit in the showrooms while we buy second-hand, and let the second-hand car prices come down too. Let the over-priced garments wallow on their hangers until they have no choice but to lower the prices. Ditch your fashion store in Sandton or Constantia in favour of a Second-Hand Rose in Long Street or Melville. Let the fancy implements in the posh kitchen shop languish on the shelves while we make do with the blender and the spatula that we already have, even if they are out of date. Stand your ground for the price reduction, bargain them down until you’re blue in the face and they’re red in the face, and be prepared to walk if they dig their heels in. Because you can.
We’ll go back when the prices come down, when we see the sale signs go up, when there are many more “reduced” stickers in the supermarket fridge, when the larney kitchen shop slashes prices by a third in desperation, because the people have spoken with their wallets. We’ll buy at the prices we can afford, not at the prices you demand of us. Because we can.
Let’s start resisting the high prices now, and let’s watch to see what they do. Let’s leave them only one alternative: to lower their prices to a level that we can afford to pay, and are prepared to pay.
Tony Jackman is a veteran journalist, playwright and Chief Sub-Editor of Daily Maverick.