a bleak christmas

Sibongile Mashaba

Sibongile Mashaba

A black Christmas lies ahead, say experts who have warned consumers to hold on to their hard-earned money.

"Now is not the time to celebrate and spend but to sit back and consolidate debt," said Independent Development Corporation chief economist Lumkile Mondi yesterday.

Significantly, the fact that the price of petrol will go down by a sizeable R1,61 a litre from midnight should not be construed as an invitation to spend freely and recklessly.

The Department of Minerals and Energy said that the average international product prices of petrol, diesel and illuminating paraffin had decreased.

"The average rand/US dollar exchange rate weakened when compared to the previous period," said spokesman Bheki Khumalo.

However, the warnings come as expectations soared that the lowering of the fuel price, in particular since August, bore good tidings for the hard-pressed consumers.

"It's going to be a black Christmas for many South Africans. Consumers should continue managing their finances and tighten their belts," Mondi said.

Mondi listed a number of factors that contributed to the gloomy forecast, including that:

l The public transport sector "never" responds to cutting fares even when the petrol price goes down;

l Companies are also retrenching workers because they want to cut costs.

Mondi said the petrol price cut, the fifth since August, was too little too late because consumers were already reeling from an already high cost of living.

Meanwhile, the National Agricultural Marketing Council said food prices were likely to drop this quarter. "A general decline in food prices seems plausible over the next three-month period," said a report released at the weekend.

South African National Taxi Council spokesman Philip Taaibosch said taxi fares would not be decreased: "We are also not looking at increasing them next year. We have not been increasing taxi fares as much as the price of petrol has," Taaibosch said.