'A day lost is one too many'

Mfundekelwa Mkhulisi

Mfundekelwa Mkhulisi

Motorists in Gauteng were stranded this weekend as fuel pumps ran dry while negotiations to end a week-long strike by delivery drivers continued.

The wage talks at the Chamber of Mines in Johannesburg between the Chemical, Energy, Paper, Printing, Wood and Allied Workers' Union (Ceppwawu) and the National Petroleum Employers Association lasted the whole day yesterday after an equally gruelling session on Saturday. No resolution was in sight by late yesterday evening.

"We are busy talking with the employers but I can't divulge any more information," said Ceppwawu's spokesman Keith Jacobs.

The strike has led to countrywide fuel shortages and panicked a buying frenzy by motorists. Reports are surfacing throughout Gauteng of desperate motorists stealing petrol from parked cars.

In Mamelodi an Engen garage pumped water into unwitting drivers' tanks, leaving cars stranded throughout the township. In Johannesburg blaring hooters and clogged entrances marked garages that one-by-one ran out of fuel as agitated motorists descended on them in response to reports that stations were running out of fuel.

Gary Ronald of the Automobile Association said last night that "things have improved because supplies are now getting through to petrol stations".

Sapa reports that oil companies had felt the effects of the strike and panic buying on their distribution and supply capacities.

"We are feeling the impact of the strike because of the sudden exceptional sales of petrol and the demand on our side," said Shell spokesman Dennis Matsane.

He said the "hot spot" for fuel shortages had been Gauteng. "It is our wish to resolve this issue as quickly as possible," he said.

BP and Engen said there had been a slight improvement in petrol supplies on Saturday.

"Trucks are on the road endlessly delivering to sites," said BP's spokesman Zipporah Mathoa.

She said the company was trying to catch up with demand by using contract workers to deliver the supplies.

But "a day lost is one too many", she said.

Engen's spokesman Tonia Landsberg said about 10percent of the company's stations had run dry last week.

She said Engen was chasing a rolling target because regular orders had to be delivered as outstanding deliveries were supplied.

Ceppwawu's Jacobs had earlier said he was "very optimistic" about the wage talks and hoped the workers and the bosses would soon settle their differences.