A retail business owner in Phoenix, Durban, has been arrested for inflating prices on goods, as citizens scrambled to make last-minute purchases before the national lockdown.
He may face imprisonment of a year.
The province's MEC for Economic Development, Tourism and Environmental Affairs, Nomusa Dube-Ncube, said the owner of Longberry Meat Market was arrested for contravening the regulations of the Consumer Protection Act and the Disaster Management Act.
Complaints from customers prompted an investigation by the department's Consumer Protection Services and, according to Dube-Ncube, the owner admitted to price hiking.
"If found guilty, the owner will pay [a] R1 000 000 fine or up to 10% of his annual business turnover. In addition, there is a possibility of imprisonment for a period not exceeding 12 months," Dube-Ncube said.
"My department is intensifying the implementation of a zero-tolerance policy towards price gougers, who are using the coronavirus outbreak to sell much-needed food and other products at inflated prices."
Other major retailers in Durban could also be in hot water, including a Pick n Pay supermarket in Ballito and SAfair Operations, the MEC said.
Pick n Pay in Pietermaritzburg and Hyper by the Sea in Durban are facing allegations of excessive price hikes on Lucky Star tin fish from R18 to R22, and hand soap from R12 to R17.
The MEC also received complaints from consumers regarding SAfair Operations for refusing to issue refunds. Instead it handed out vouchers, deducting R300 for cancellation fees.
Officials also found that Checkstar Supermarket in Phoenix hiked the price on Savlon. The matter has been referred to the police for investigation.
With the national lockdown just a few hours away - scheduled to start at midnight - Dube-Ncube said efforts had been ramped up to protect consumers during this time. She encouraged consumers to lay complaints.
"We have strengthened our partnership with SAPS, the National Consumer Commission, the National Competition Authority and the Consumer Goods Council of South Africa," Dube-Ncube said.