The strikes began last Monday when tens of thousands of workers in the petroleum, chemical and pharmaceutical industries stopped working, demanding a 13 percent wage increase –more than the 4 to 7 percent offered by employers.
The Solidarity trade union, which has 6000 members working in the petroleum industry, is also primed to join in the fuel strikes. According to Avhapfani Tshifularo, CEO of the South Africa Petroleum Service Industry Association, a Solidarity strike could result in fuel production being stopped at PetroSA in Mossel Bay and Sasol in Secunda.
The threat of an ongoing strike has already caused mass panic as motorists lined up at petrol stations across the country for hours, in the hopes of acquiring the last available drops of fuel.
According to reports by Times Live, more than 300 stations in Gauteng province – the nation’s economic hub – are already dry, while 60 in KwaZulu-Natal are struggling to get supplies of petrol. News24 has also reported shortages at Springbok and Upington in the Northern Cape.
“The situation has now reached a crisis point,” said Reggie Sibiya, executive head of the Fuel Retailers’ Association (FRA).
Concerns have arisen over the lack of petrol for emergency vehicles such as ambulances, fire engines, and police cars. The South African National Taxi Council is also set to lose nearly R2 million (US$290,000) every day if strikes persist. Furthermore, with the school holidays having just come to an end, there has been anxiety over whether there would be enough fuel for buses to drive students to school.
Despite attempts made by oil companies to refuel petrol stations across the country, there have been widespread reports of petrol tankers being attacked or blocked off by protestors.
Royal Dutch Shell Plc (RDSA)’s South African unit told Bloomberg last Saturday that a vehicle en route to deliver fuel to the Gauteng Province had been forced to return to its depot after being shot at several times.
Fortuin added that while additional security arrangements had been put into place for deliveries, including the use of police escorts, Shell was unlikely to deliver any more fuel at night due to the “unpredictable situation.”