At least 11 businesses are currently being investigated for selling protective gear crucial to the prevention of the spread of the Covid-19 coronavirus pandemic at inflated prices.
This was announced by Minister of Trade and Industry Ebrahim Patel during a media briefing on Tuesday morning. Ministers in the economic cluster were briefing the media on the looming lockdown and the measures put in place to financially assist businesses and workers.
Patel announced that the 11 firms were allegedly selling products including face masks, hand sanitisers and gloves at inflated prices amid the Covid-19 crisis.
The minister said it was worth noting “that government is serious about keeping an eye on price inflation during this time of covid-19”.
He told journalists that government had received complaints about these firms and individuals flouting regulations by “increasing prices unjustifiably”.
The Competition Commission and the National Consumer Commission met on Monday, and discussed investigating these firms, he said.
“These firms have been found to be selling products such as face masks, hand sanitisers and others at high prices, and abusing the situation”, said Patel.
He added that “more firms are now being investigated and prosecutions will follow”.
According to Patel, penalties for flouting the regulations include fines of R1 million, fines of up to 10% of a company’s turnover, or one year in jail.
Meanwhile, Minister of Small Business Development Khumbudzo Ntshavheni has slammed claims by AfriForum that government will only give funding to companies that are at least 51% black owned.
Ntshavheni said the accusation was tantamount to “fake news”.
She said while companies must be 100% South African owned and must have 70% South African workers, there would be no requirement for black ownership.
According to Ntshavheni, her department will ensure that there is a “demographic spread” in the companies it assists, and priority will be given to companies that benefit women, young people and people with disabilities.
On Tuesday AfriForum condemned government’s policy amendments aimed and providing relief to SMMEs as announced by President Cyril Ramaphosa on Monday. The organisation labelled the measures as “racist and an attack on white businesses”.
It accused the ANC of “taking advantage of the current Covid-19 coronavirus pandemic to push a racist agenda” that only supports SMMEs and questioned “why the governing party was only focusing on black-owned businesses as providing them with financial relief ” when all business were “equally affected by the covid-19 pandemic”.
A fund has been established – with help from the R2 billion donated by the Oppenheimer and Rupert families – to assist small businesses that are threatened by the coronavirus crisis.
Ramaphosa on Monday announced a 21-day a nationwide lockdown - starting at midnight on Thursday - in an effort to slow down the spread of the virus.
The number of confirmed infections in South Africa rose to 554 on Tuesday.