By DAVE CHIBESA –
Overpricing, as the word implies, has a prefix that suggests ‘excess’ or ‘above minimum’.
In this light, everyone expects the business fraternity to make some ‘modest profit’ in accordance with the dictates of investment.
But a closer scrutiny of transactions reveals that one needs not be a ‘rocket scientist’ or ‘economic guru’ to notice the current trends of selling and buying especially in high density localities of Lusaka.
Here, the practice of repackaging essential commodities has for decades been the order of the day.
The ‘nitty-gritty’ system ensures that the low paid wage earners ‘make hay while the sun shines!’ owing to their meager earnings.
This implies settling for the ‘micro-level repackaged sachets’. These are flimsy plastic packs whose prices get fixed by the eye and mostly using conjecture and not properly weighed or measured!
Usually, the bottom half of a disposable plastic soft drink bottle would be cut to be used as a measuring vessel.
The pricing could be shelled groundnuts, salt, sugar including Kapenta (sardines) heaped in the small container. Sometimes, disposable plastic container that once had butter in it would be adopted as a measure of quantity.
On the other hand, if it is a tin floor polish container also being used to sell edibles such as catapillars, and other dry rations including fish.
At times, the tin container may be ‘hammered’ or ‘hemmed-in’ in a bid to reduce ‘loading space’ (volume) and a price fixed for the content.
These items could have been siphoned off a 25kg bag of either mealie-meal, sugar or any other essential commodity for resale.
It appears that the assumption of profit rests on the premise that several units would be realised from a single voluminous package.
In Lusaka, the system shifts to main markets like Soweto and other township markets.
In recent times, there has been a marked raising of prices in smaller packages owing to what one observer engaged in trade said was ‘constant price rises at wholesale points’.
This came to light when this writer bought a large ‘fritter’ that usually sold at K5 and instantly, the female seller intoned: ”It is now K6 because they have just raised the order price again!,” adding, “Vintu vadura!” (Goods have become expensive!)
After this grumble, the seller said: ”Because I know you and you have complained, you can have it at the old price, it is alright…”
Another episode was when this scribe again entered a shop and his entry coincided with that of another female buyer who earlier had sent one of her adolescent boys to buy ‘Kapenta’ sold from another ‘cut off bottom’ of a disposable plastic soft drink bottle.
The irate woman entered and asked the shopkeeper:” Do you think, you as a family man can survive on this quantity?,” she asked as she held the plastic package of Kapenta and dangled it in his face.
However, the shopkeeper smiled and picked a small quantity of the sardines and added to the already bought pack after unmaking the knot at the top of the flimsy plastic.
“Ni mwamene vifunikira kunkhala so!” (This is the way it should be!) she applauded the gesture as she walked out of the shop with her adolescent son.
It was apparent in keeping with the old adage ‘All is well that ends well’, the disputed transaction had been settled.
But in different circumstances, furor and bitterness may ensue leading to strained relationships in the neighbourhood.
However, a shrewd business person should strive to thrive on goodwill the baseline of good faring in one’s undertaking.
Still, in typical high density dialogue or rapport could be high-flung rhetoric sometimes bordering on ‘defamatory misdemeanor’ (language that reduces a person’s integrity) which may also culminate in finger-pointing and disregard for the other person’s rights or good name.
By some stroke of luck, many such probabilities never found their way to the courts and hence ‘the terse comments blew with the wind!’
On the average, the local folks who deal in baseline meat products like sausages make roaring business at Soweto Market (Old and New) as the wheelbarrow loads of the commodity sells well in the marketplaces.
Another peep outside the window reveals that the same sausage costing K5 ends up costing K10-K15 in the townships and sometimes cut into pieces costing K2 each and upwards.
Pork prices cut into pieces cost K6, K12 and K25 per piece and the runaway pricing seems to be fixed by the eye.
The weighing aspect seems to be an ‘out-of-the blue’ probability or non-existent and as commonplace as tradition.
There appears to be no regulation on how to weigh quantities or measure liquids for sale to the consumer.
However, only factory-made goods like cooking oil and soft drinks sell according to their quantities.
Even the preceding goods sometimes appear to have prices chasing the K100 mark! On further enquiry, one would be told that prices increase at source and the retailer follows suit.
The preceding example illustrates the trend that has over time led to the urge for a 100 per cent profit margin by the average vendor.
Despite price hikes at source, the urge for higher percentage profiteering sometimes comes to the fore if one cared to make a systematic follow-up on any commodity.
This psychology extends to other essential commodities that could be bought from many wholesale outlets in the city.
In the meantime, incessant hiking of prices may be equated to the exchange rate fluctuations in the circumstances chasing the K20 mark!
The crux of the matter mealie meal’s exponential pricing also follows suit with sachets priced from K2, K3, and K5.
It is also possible that this empirical Lusaka urban projection may be rendered as ‘an understatement outside the city boundaries.’
One would also be inclined to note that the underclass culture looms large in situations where miniature repacking of commodities forms the norm.
History notes that the overpricing mania spans many generations and has proved to be a passive and dynamic phenomenon from the first republic to the current epoch.