Cosatu added its voice to the masses calling for an end to the increase in the price of petrol. The protest took place at the Mariannhill Toll Plaza, west of Durban. Picture: Leon Lestrade/African News Agency (ANA)
Durban - Road shedding - blocking major transport routes through protest - hurts the economy.

That was the comment by economist Mike Schussler on Friday as the traffic coming into Durban from the two major freeway routes, N3 and N2, was brought to a standstill with motorists left sitting in traffic jams for several hours.

The picket against petrol and VAT hikes started yesterday morning with members from Cosatu, Pappi (People Against Petrol and Paraffin Price Increases), the Progressive Youth Alliance and SACP gathering and chanting “down with petrol price increases” at the Marianhill Toll Plaza, west of Durban, which was closed.

There were also “go slow” vehicles along both freeways blocking normal traffic flow. From the N2, traffic was affected from Tongaat, north of Durban.

Midlands lawyer Mike Forsyth said it took him three hours to get from Hilton, in the KwaZulu-Natal Midlands to Durban North yesterday. It normally takes around one hour and 15 minutes.

“Motorists had to drive at a snail’s pace for stretches of about 15km, speed up for about 1km, then come to a halt.”

While there were no reported injuries, stun grenades were used by police at the toll plaza at one point, and there were reports on social media of at least one incident where the back window of a vehicle was broken.

By late yesterday afternoon, the N3 freeway had been affected in both directions, with picketing crowds moving towards Spaghetti Junction (the EB Cloete Interchange just outside Durban).

At the protest, Pappi convenor Visvin Reddy called for the removal of taxes and levies in the fuel price and for a wealth tax to be imposed on top companies listed on the JSE.

But Schussler has warned that such protests are counter-productive, having a negative ripple effect on the economy.

“It’s simple. It hurts the economy when we keep blocking the roads. I call it road shedding. The government has said they are trying to find a solution, so let’s wait. We are very quick to protest, but protests are feeding into the whole picture - for example, insurance will go up in the transport and trucking industry or goods being delivered are delayed.”

In a press briefing this week, Energy Minister Jeff Radebe touted that capping the price of 93 octane could lead to competition with 95 octane, resulting in overall lower petrol prices. He confirmed a consultation process has started with the petroleum industry which has until October 18 to respond.

Details on whether the capped amount would mean a higher 93 octane price over a fixed term was unclear, and whether the savings would be justified would be up to motorists to work out.

The Fuel Retailers’ Association said it would not comment on the proposal.

“Capping it is fine, but we really have to look at freeing up the market. It’s a structural problem,” Schussler said, highlighting solutions could be allowing self-service, limited contracts which could be re-negotiated and to increase the number of suppliers for garages.

He forecast a drop in petrol prices in December or January.

Another economist, Dawie Roodt, asked, “What does capping mean? There is little scope to reduce the petrol price. You can cut here and there. But indirect possibilities include implementing the right policies would see the rand appreciate, and the petrol price go down.

“Or make more use of coal to petrol. This kind of project is expensive but very lucrative, as you can produce petrol at significantly lower costs.”

Pappi said it rejected the government’s proposal of introducing a cap on 93 octane, with Reddy calling it “so naive that at first one would think it’s a joke. Retailers will not be able to reduce the price of other fuels because the same government regulates those prices”.

Cosatu’s KZN provincial secretary Edwin Mkhize said, “We reject the VAT and fuel hikes as nothing less than dumping the bill for the looting of billions of rand of workers’ taxes by some public servants officials, politicians and private sector. We demand government reduce the fuel levy and other taxes and tax the wealthy to subsidise the poor.”

Spokesperson Layton Beard said while the AA was not part of the proposals on the capping of 93 octane, it welcomed any measures to lower the fuel price.

On whether 93 octane was better than 95 octane, Beard said it was left to drivers to undertake the necessary research on what fuel to put into their vehicles.

The Independent on Saturday