Petrol price increase bites deep

A familiar sight at filling stations around the Boland last Tuesday night as motorists queue to fill their tanks before the petrol price topped R16 a litre.

The petrol price increase which came into effect on Wednesday last week, following an increase a month earlier, has pushed the price per litre over R16 for the first time in history, and the anger in the community is palpable.

On the coast, the price of petrol went up to R15.43 a litre.

Bolander visited a few petrol station forecourts on Tuesday evening to poll Somerset West residents’ opinions and the sentiment was uniform: these continued price increases are just too much to bear.

“It’s devastating, it is completely ridiculous. I don’t work, don’t use my car a lot but at the end of the month I have to put more in, and food prices go up too. It affects everybody,” said Ruth Cullingworth.

“It’s really terrible, we are affording less daily. I don’t know what’s happening to our country. Personally it will affect me terribly, I work in Parow, I travel 80km a day. We are affording less daily; it will hit everyone hard. It’s going to hit me hard,” said Phumla Mapapu.

“This is very, very bad, very cruel to the general public. We can’t have fuel going up and up, because prices of goods must go up too. If government can do something, we’d appreciate it. I drive my kids to school, I go to work, and the shops every day and everything goes up. The guys who deliver the food to the shops also use petrol, everything goes up,” said Archford Ngende.

Although unhappy at the prospect of paying more, Thorp Koorts had a different view: “I am quite annoyed, I drive quite a bit, my daily commute is quite far, 100km. I’m also fairly neutral, tax on petrol is a levy that hits everyone, it’s across the board, but better than income tax which hits less people harder, but I definitely don’t enjoy paying R15.43 a litre. It is a good push for electric cars to get some traction, I’m really supporting that, and we should look at our carbon footprint. It could be a silver lining, so I’m in two minds about it.”

But aside from its widespread impact on ordinary citizens, the many civil society organisations that provide services to some of the most vulnerable people in our society are even harder hit by petrol price increases. Bolander spoke to three such organisations that operate in the Helderberg, and one that operates throughout the Cape Winelands.

Meals on Wheels’ Debbie Hoyle had this to say: “During the period March 1 last year to end February we served 70 934 meals to the neediest members of our community.

“We deliver door to door to homebound members in Somerset West, Strand and Gordon’s Bay twice a week. Because of rising fuel costs, we are trying to cut down on daily deliveries, so we deliver two meals on a Tuesday and three on a Thursday, to those who need five meals a week.

“In the poorest of the poor communities of Sir Lowry’s Pass, Macassar, Lwandle and Chris Nissen Park, we dish out food that has been prepared for up to 300 people at a time. We provide cooked food to 210 children at a Grade R school in Lwandle daily as well as to two creches in Sir Lowry’s Pass five days a week.

“The increase in VAT and fuel will shrink our budget for groceries and other necessities that we need to prepare our meals, and transport expenses are under pressure, for meal deliveries, shopping trips, collecting donations and transporting elderly members of the community to and from the Meals on Wheels Centre,” Ms Hoyle said.

Child Welfare South Africa (CWSA) Helderberg manager, Paula Rossouw, also said the increase would grievously affect her organisation.

“We use four vehicles to render child protection services in the communities of Sir Lowry’s Pass, Somerset West, Firgrove and Macassar every day.

“Furthermore we have statutory responsibilities in terms of the Children’s Act which demand that social workers, almost on a weekly basis, appear in court with children who are in foster care and in children’s homes.

“This means that the children and the families have to be fetched and taken to court.  The children in children’s homes are all over the city and as far afield as Malmesbury and Kleinmond. 

“CWSA is an NPO and PBO receiving funding from government but our budget shortfall for this year is expected to be R60 000 a month. This increase makes it clear that this shortfall might increase, which puts a strain on CWSA’s sustainability despite having survived for 62 years.

“Although we try very hard to save, we form part of essential services and when a child is at risk the social worker has to go out and intervene where the child is and we can’t not say we can not go because sometimes this intervention literally saves lives,” Ms Rossouw said.

Helderberg Hospice will be equally hard-hit, according to CEO, Gail Sykes. “The increasing fuel price obviously has a detrimental effect on all of us today, but we at Helderberg Hospice, need to look at it from an organisational perspective,” Ms Sykes told Bolander last Wednesday.

“Running a non-profit organisation in South Africa in 2018 is a very real challenge as a result of, among other considerations, the regular increase of fuel costs that have to be absorbed by our organisation – yes, ‘absorbed’, we do not pass these costs on to our patients, they therefore have to be covered by ourselves and are very difficult to budget for appropriately. 

“Our average monthly spend on fuel costs is in the region of R15 000 substantially up on previous years and with no hope of any real reduction. 

“While we have managed to offer our special kind of care to the community for 33 years, recent inflation levels and cost increases have contributed to this being a very real challenge. 

“Hospice-branded vehicles are seen throughout the area collecting donations for delivery to our shops as well as transporting patients for day hospice activities. 

“In addition, our full complement of home-care sisters and social workers are on the road constantly, visiting patients and their families in their homes throughout the Helderberg area in order to offer medical advice, assistance, counselling and support to the community.

“While some advice can be offered telephonically, 90% of it needs to be in person, thus necessitating numerous visits to the home during a period of care – all requiring vehicles. 

“In an effort to reduce costs, our staff are allocated large areas in which to work thus reducing time and cost necessitated by driving from one area to another. 

“When one considers that we service Macassar, Firgrove, Croydon, Somerset West, Sir Lowry’s Pass village, Gordon’s Bay, Lwandle, Chris Nissen Park, Ikwezi and Strand, an area of 337km² and a population of about 250 000 people, one becomes aware of the area we need to cover and the effect of the fuel price on our service delivery,” Ms Sykes said. 

“There are, unfortunately, no rebates offered or ‘special deals’ for public service organisations such as ourselves, and with the price hikes in recent months we are simply forced to absorb yet another constantly escalating cost with no respite.  Where will it end?”

The Pebbles Project provides a range of services to communities in the Cape Winelands, many of which are provided via mobile facilities. Fund-raising and public relations manager, Charmaine Gola, spoke to Bolander last Thursday. “To say we have been adversely affected by the recent fuel hikes in the country is an understatement because some of the programmes we offer to our beneficiaries are mobile programmes, not centre-based.

“We operate a number of vehicles providing different services to beneficiaries on a daily basis. These range from a vehicle delivering meals every day for our nutrition programme to a toy library, a book and DVD library as well as two computer libraries.

“All our beneficiaries are located on various farms between Stellenbosch, Paarl, Wellington, Citrusdal and Hermanus and services need to reach them where they are every single day, which means we are always on the road. Our fuel bill has gone up by over 50% so far this year for the same amount travelled this time last year,” Ms Gola said.

And there is little end in sight, with a further increase predicted for the first Wednesday in August.

The outcry from civil society about the latest increase prompted the government to release a post-cabinet meeting press statement that it plans to take steps to shield South Africa from the impact of external factors that contribute to increasing fuel prices – rand weakness, dollar strength, declining confidence in some emerging economies, the escalating oil price due to a decline in global production, among others – but it is unclear what those measures might entail.