Panic buying in Eastern Cape as lockdown nears

Vincent SupaSpar filling up the empty pasta shelves as shoppers flocked to shops to stock up.
Vincent SupaSpar filling up the empty pasta shelves as shoppers flocked to shops to stock up.

Long queues and empty shelves were the order of the day on Wednesday as East London residents rushed out to stock up on groceries and household items ahead of the national lockdown.

Despite President Cyril Ramaphosa saying in his address to SA on Monday night that there was no need to stockpile groceries, residents flocked to food retailers in droves. The 21-day shutdown starts at midnight on Thursday.   

At Spargs SuperSpar in Beacon Bay, toilet paper remained the most sought-after item but tinned food and non-perishable products like spaghetti, rice, maize meal and instant noodles were also flying off the shelves.

Store manager Thulani Simka said: “Our storeroom has been severely depleted. People are really stockpiling  beans, tomato sauce and noodles as well.” 

Taking DispatchLIVE around the busy store, Simka pointed at empty shelves.

“As you can see, within three hours of trading, the shelves are bare. We are trying to keep up with our shoppers by getting our guys to put more on the empty shelves,” he said.  

Black refuse bags and dog food were also among big sellers.

Shelves were  emptied of baking flour, beans and samp by 11am on Tuesday. Sanitisers, disinfectants and air freshers were also almost sold out.

A packer at the store, who is not authorised to speak to the media, said: “I am so exhausted. I have not rested a minute. The buyers are keeping us busy.”  

DispatchLIVE saw more than a dozen shoppers wearing masks and gloves.

There were also empty shelves at Pick n Pay at Retail Park in Beacon Bay.

Anxious customers were moving through the aisles loading toilet paper, hand sanitiser and canned goods.

Shopper Alfred Rubenstein, of  Beacon Bay, said he informed his employer two weeks ago he would be taking a temporary leave of absence.

But his concern is that there are no social safety nets for people like him. He is no longer generating an income, and he has to pay rent in two weeks.

“With the little savings I have I had to buy essentials, tinned food,” he said.

When he saw other people buying in bulk, he  felt he had to stockpile groceries in case  “everything is  sold out when we need it”.

In Makhanda, the shelves  at the local Pick n Pay were empty within half an hour of Ramaphosa's speech on Monday night.