Eating on credit is a poor meal

29 September 2017
As Pick n Pay South Africa starts issuing a ‘credit card’ that allows people to buy their groceries on credit, we hope that the relevant authorities here in Namibia will never allow such a move.
Before such plans come to fruition locally, we would want to state unequivocally that this is a mistake. 
We would have reached a new level of poverty when the middle classes struggling financially are lured into eating on credit while deepening their unending credit burden.
Already we are driving cars we don’t own (the bank has the title), living in houses that won’t be paid off in our lifetimes and managing overdrafts that are strained beyond recognition.
Many of us struggle with ever-increasing municipal bills that are 60 days behind and we buy clothes with store accounts that are in arrears.  Now, just to put a meal on the table, we would have food credit cards bills as well? 
Buying things with plastic is psychologically too easy.  Many ordinary Namibians, simplistic at heart, see the use of a card to ‘get things’ not as cash money spent, but as a ticket to consumerism that would not ordinarily be possible. They don’t fully ‘get it’ that at the end of the month, the bill comes due. 
Just as with the high interest credit card debt or ‘store accounts’, Namibians with the chance to buy food on the dole, will do so.  They will run up those poisoned plastic pills quickly and still not have enough money for food after they are maxed out.
GRN must discourage credit spending during these tight economic times.  If credit is used for food shops that sell alcohol, certainly that is what will eat up the credit limits.  People will see the ‘ease’ of plastic money to buy things they would not ordinarily purchase, perhaps luxury food ‘extras’ that they really cannot afford. 
Having only N$300 in hand to buy food, means bare essentials only would go into the shopping cart, but having a plastic delusion to buy food, means that maybe N$500 gets spent instead, without realising the mounting debt caused by over-spending.
If one grocery store chain establishes ‘food credit cards’, the others will follow in order to be competitive in that market space. 
Where is a Consumer Protection Act with clauses that protect people from themselves when it comes to credit and debt?  People do not read the ‘fine print’ on the bottom of invoices and credit card monthly statements.  Many aren’t even aware of the usury level interest rates they pay on their store accounts and cards.
Can people who are unprepared to handle the burden of extra credit card debt for food or anything else, be so unprotected by the laws in the country that they are allowed to fall over the cliff without a full understanding of the debt trap that is closing around them?
On farms all over Namibia, often the owners have a ‘store’ or shop where food and household goods are available to the workers ‘on credit.’  These people spend next month’s pay cheque by buying on credit, before the end of the previous month so that at the end of the month, they get nothing.  As a result, they are forced to buy food on credit in an endless cycle, to survive that month. 
This debilitating cycle of credit keeps them in perpetual debt, bound to the farm owner and with no hope of saving even a little bit, to build a better quality life. 
We think credit cards in food stores would result in an equal situation for the urban working class just like the farm workers living on store credit in rural areas. 
People living in nice houses and driving fancy cars often appear to be living a ‘glam’ life, when in fact they would be the first people getting those food credit cards to eat a plastic promise each month, making their overwhelming debt burden even worse.
There are too many façades of empowerment like BEE, NEEEF and even food banks, when in fact, the tight economic situation we now face, is busy disempowering ordinary Namibian households. 
We think that decreasing the credit available to consumers that could lead to a longer term lightening of the overall household debt burden is the best way to empower Namibians.  Excessive debt is a disempowering tether.
Introduction of a grocery credit card or food account would be a disempowering mistake and we hope all who are considering this, dismiss that option. 
Namibians must overcome this new level of poverty facing struggling households by delayed gratification, planned expenditures, saving for particular purchases, paying down existing debt and investing in income-generating businesses; they must not be lured into eating on credit.


The Windhoek Observer is an English-language weekly newspaper, published in Namibia by Paragon Investment Holding. It is the country's oldest and largest circulating weekly.

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