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  • Items ranging from toilet paper to meat now have price controls, in terms of regulations that came into force this week around the novel coronavirus disaster.
  • Seeking to profiteer from those items is a criminal offence, worth up to R1 million or a year in jail.
  • If you suspect price gouging, do not go to the police. Phone the National Consumer Commission instead, on 0800 014 880.
  • That will lead to "swift action", the Competition Commission promises.
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Items ranging from toilet paper to meat now come with price controls, and any retailer that hike the prices of those items unduly could be in for a fine of R1 million, or up to 12 months in prison.

But if you think someone is trying to profiteer, don't phone the police. The SA Police Service (SAPS) expects to have its hands full dealing with other emergency rules – such as strict limitations on the sale of alcohol.

Instead enforcement will start via reports to the National Consumer Commission, and its call centre at the telephone number 0800 014 880, the department of trade and industry said on Friday.

See also our Covid-19 update, with everything you need to know about the novel coronavirus in South Africa

As of early Friday afternoon there was virtually no waiting time for calls to be answered.

Cases reported there "will be screened and referred to the relevant regulator for swift action," the Competition Commission promised in a statement on Friday.

Not all price hikes are price gouging.

The retail rules, in place for the duration of the national disaster declared around Covid-19, do not freeze prices at their rand value before the novel coronavirus sparked panic buying. Instead price increases must be in line with increased costs, rather than to make for bigger profits.

Even where price increases are justified because costs have increased, a higher margin can still fall foul of the rules. In terms of the emergency regulations the net margin or markup for protected items may not be higher than the average margin had been between December and the end of February.

As of Friday, some small retailers said they were being accused of profiteering on items such as hand sanitiser, even though they were selling at or near cost price.

Equitable distribution – and signs – are required from sellers.

Under the temporary rules, retailers are required to "ensure equitable distribution" of the protected items, and must do all they can to keep those in stock.

They are also specifically required to put up signs promising to be diligent in that regard.

Wholesalers, meanwhile, have an obligation to stop their customers from hoarding the critical supplies.

Here is the list of necessities covered by the price controls, in the non-alphabetic order they were listed in when published by the government.

  • Toilet paper
  • Hand sanitiser
  • Face masks
  • Disinfectant cleaners
  • Surgical gloves
  • Surgical masks
  • Disinfectant wipes
  • Antispectic liquids
  • All-purpose cleaners
  • Baby formula
  • Disposable nappies
  • Bleach
  • Cooking oils
  • Wheat flour
  • Rice
  • Maize mal
  • Pasta
  • Sugar
  • Long-life milk
  • Canned and frozen vegetables
  • Canned, frozen, and fresh meat, chicken, and fish
  • Bottled water

(Compiled by Phillip de Wet)

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