Despite contingency measures, petrol stations in Gauteng and elsewhere started to run out of fuel on Tuesday – with a good chance that things could get considerably worse by the weekend if the transport strike is not resolved.
Several petrol stations in Johannesburg and Pretoria ran out of fuel on Tuesday morning as scheduled deliveries failed to arrive, and by late morning stations elsewhere in the country had started to report low availability.
And, with both a petrol price increase and a holiday rush coming up, individual retailers are worrying.
"We had a truck due from Secunda last night and one from Langlaagte this morning," said a petrol station manager in Johannesburg on Wednesday, where pumps had been blocked off and motorists were being waved away. "We don't know where they are."
With an increase of around 20 cents per litre due on Wednesday, motorists would traditionally start to line up around the block by Tuesday evening to fill up their tanks, he said, "but all the guys around here are already dry".
In KwaZulu-Natal, one source told the Mail & Guardian, the situation was not yet severe but concerns were mounting about increased holiday demand. "When those people from Johannesburg want to start going back on the weekend we could have trouble. Our supplies are being held back so the petrol can be distributed more evenly."
Individual managers and even petrol companies are not allowed to talk to the media under agreed rules to control the flow of information but representatives from organisations, including the South African Petroleum Industry Association (Sapia) and the South African Fuel Retailers Association, could not be reached for comment on Tuesday morning. Some of them were apparently locked in meetings with the energy department. The department too could not be reached for comment.
Earlier this week Sapia said it had put contingency plans in place to ensure "minimal supply disruption" during the ongoing strike by transport trade unions but those the plans were confidential. It urged the public to remain calm.
Negotiations between the Road Freight Employers' Association and unions are only due to resume on Wednesday, with an offer still 3.5 percentage points short of the 12% increase drivers are demanding.