Walvis Bay — Founder of the Namibian Consumer Lobby, Bob Ziekenoppasser, says Namibian consumers are being bamboozled by manufacturers that remain one step ahead of consumers by charging more for lesser quantities, while consumers only focus on affordability and cost of products.
Ziekenoppasser, a consumer lobbyist for years, is of the opinion consumers are rather careless and are focussing more on what they can afford but neglect to take a closer look at the product they actually buy.
"For instance, commodities nowadays are getting pricier and manufacturers are manufacturing smaller bottles or containers that are sold at either the same price or at a higher price than before," he elaborated.
Ziekenoppasser went on to say that 400 grams of Black Cat peanut butter used to sell for about N$17, "but nowadays it is being sold for above N$27 in almost half of its original size containers."
He further said consumers, or rather the average buyer is ignorant and is unaware of being ripped off. "As daily commodities have become costly and since consumers cannot afford much they have become inattentive and focus only on what they can afford. They actually fail to study the product and its quantity and whether it is worth its price," he maintained.
He added that this applies to countless manufacturers that have products on the shelves of local supermarkets.
"For instance, this is how the consumer is confused or ripped off the fastest. Traditionally potatoes were sold in 10-kilogramme bags. They have become pricier these days as manufacturers or farmers started to supply shops with 7-kilogramme bags. Then we saw a change from the 7-kilogramme bags to 5-, 4-and later 2-kilogramme bags. If consumers are price conscious and calculate what they actually pay for potatoes per kilogramme they would be pleasantly shocked to find that they are actually paying more for potatoes per kilogramme. This applies to other fruit and vegetable products too."
Ziekenoppasser went on to say that for years people reasoned that exorbitant commodity price were influenced by the high transport cost due to the distance between South Africa and Namibia.
"However, when the Namibian company Namib Mills had intentions to manufacture pasta locally the imported product, for instance Fattis and Monis spaghetti 500 grams used to sell for about N$7. Namib Mills then started to stock shops with the locally produced Pasta Polana and we note that the South African product disappeared from our shelves.
"Nowadays you find that Pasta Polana spaghetti-500 grams (locally manufactured, without huge transport costs) is selling at exactly the same price as Fattis and Monis. Can we still blame transport costs in this aspect?" he queried.
Another example pointed out by Ziekenoppasser is that of chicken that is being imported from South Africa in 1,5- and 2-kilogramme bags that are indeed pricier.
"Consumers were overjoyed when shops started to stock locally produced chicken at only N$23.99. But our joy was short-lived as the price of the chicken has since skyrocketed and is now being sold for almost N$42 while production takes place at Brakwater.
"Now the question is: Who are these people who are making an absolute killing through the detriment of the poor consumers on all these products?
"It is definitely not the farmer that gets N$45 per kilogramme for selling his fruit to retailers or the farmer who sells his locally produced meat to butcheries. We should rather ask how many people/traders (middle men) are earning money that has increased these prices to such an extent," he said. Several efforts to contact some of the retail shops over the weekend were unfruitful.
In a recent article published in New Era, Mihe Gaomab II the Secretary and Chief Executive of the Namibian Competition Commission (NCC) said South Africans whose economy is closely linked to Namibia "have lived in something close to the consumer Dark Ages for many years that was plagued by historical legacy of disempowerment for consumers. The consumers in South Africa and Namibia alike are suffering enormous weight of small print and tedious terms and conditions when buying almost anything under the sun."
"These were made further difficult by purposefully having unclear hire purchase contractual arrangements to paying the price for a service provider's inability to cancel a contract whether subscribing for a gym facility or paying for an unwanted service on a periodic basis, which is normally a year.
"Ever since political liberation and independence for South Africa and Namibia, concentrated economic sectors and lack of strong consumer and political will against the need for effective consumer protection have greatly disenfranchised and disempowered consumers," Gaomab II had stated.
This greatly changed on April 1 2011, when the new Consumer Protection Act (CPA) came into effect with strong support from the consumers and politicians alike.
Namibian support for the need for consumer protection has also culminated in preparations in that regard.
"Prominent newspapers like New Era are advocating for a strong and effective consumer lobby.
"There has also been increased awareness created led by the vibrant grassroots consumer organisations such as the Namibia Consumer Trust, Namibia Consumer Protection Group and the Namibian Consumer Lobby.
"All these bodies are increasingly using social media such as Facebook to increase awareness on consumer issues and the need to ensure legislation for the consumer," Gaomab II further stated in his piece on the need for consumer lobbies.