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South Africans Upset Over Tax Hike on Favorite Meat: Chicken

  • Anita Powell

South Africa’s government has raised taxes on imported chicken - a move that directly affects millions in a nation where inequality and poverty still are rife. The government says the move will protect local chicken producers and save jobs, but consumers say the change is ruffling their feathers.

The humble chicken is South Africa’s favorite meat. South Africans ate nearly 1.8 million tons of chicken last year, according to the U.S. Department of Agriculture.

A new tax on imported chicken, however, may peck away at the meat’s supremacy. In late September, the government imposed tariffs ranging from 30 percent to 82 percent on various imported chicken products.

South Africa has been importing increasing amounts of chicken, and industry experts say that is negatively affecting a sector that employs about 100,000 people. The new tariffs will make local chicken more attractive, but analysts have said all chicken might rise in price.

Widespread displeasure

Predictably, VOA did not meet a single South African consumer who was happy about the price hike.

“I eat vegetables because I’ve got no money to buy chicken,” said domestic worker Pamela Sitstshongye.

“A lot of people are suffering in South Africa. They don’t have a lot of money to buy expensive chicken,” said Paulina Rangoanashe, a law firm employee.

Michael Sejaphala runs a food truck in Johannesburg selling traditional foods for modest prices. He said he is struggling.

“I used to buy four chickens for 100 rand [about $10], and now already I’m buying four chickens for 140 rand [about $14]. So if it’s going to have to rise more, wow, it’s going to be quite heavy on my customers,” said Sejaphala.

Poverty level persists

A new study by the independent research group Afrobarometer found that South Africa's poverty level has not gone down despite the nation's economic growth.

At this family-owned butchery in Johannesburg, Alpeka Meat Market manager Frankie Goncalves said the tax is unfair.

“Well, imported chicken, it’s a bit better than the local chicken, it’s much better than the local chicken. And the only problem is that we’re going to battle to keep up with the prices,” he said.

But "chickenomics," experts say, is more complicated.

Kevin Lovell, head of the South African Poultry Association, said the industry needs to be protected. “And nobody wants to pay more for the same thing. But everyone wants to keep their job. And that’s what tariffs are meant for. They’re policy instruments that countries can use to try and develop specified industries for a specific purpose, and by doing that to improve the overall economic performance of their country.”

Whatever happens, South African families may find it increasingly hard to achieve a future with a chicken in every pot.