Fuel industry assures motorists

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. . . as SA petroleum sector strike rages on

Bereng Mpaki

FUEL deliveries into Lesotho have continued despite an indefinite strike by South African trade unions demanding higher wages, the Petroleum Fund has said.

However, the agency warned yesterday this could change if the industrial actions drags on.

Around 15 000 members affiliated to Chemical, Energy, Paper, Printing, Wood and Allied Workers union (CEPPWAWU) downed tools last week Thursday, demanding a nine percent wage hike and one-year deal, while employers were offering less.

Now CEPPWAWU and employers appear to be playing the waiting game as to who will make the first call to come to the negotiating table.

According to Petroleum Fund Operations Manager, Lebohang Makhoali, the agency was yet to receive any reports of fuel shortages in the country. Lesotho currently imports an estimated 20 million litres of petroleum products in the form of paraffin, diesel and petrol from South Africa every month.

“At the moment, the strike has not affected Lesotho. However, we will definitely have a problem if the strike continues for a long time because our fuel reserves could then run out,” he said, adding the country’s fuel storage reservoirs had the capacity to supply the country for only four days.

“However, we are hoping it won’t come to that. Hopefully, the situation in South Africa will be resolved sooner than later.”

Mr Makhoali said the government’s plans to establish a fuel storage facility was meant to address the problem of frequent petroleum sector industrial action in the neighbouring country. Earlier this year, the government called for prospective consultants to submit bids for carrying out a four-month feasibility study for the construction of the reservoir.

Meanwhile, an official at petroleum company, Total Lesotho, yesterday told the Lesotho Times their fuel supplied had not been affected by the ongoing strike, adding their service stations around the country were operating as normal.

However, some Puma Energy filling stations around Maseru experienced fuel shortages earlier in the week, although it was not immediately clear if it was due to the strike. Enquiries by the Lesotho Times to Puma Energy over the issue were fruitless yesterday, as the person authorised to talk to the media was said to be out of the country until next week.

For its part, Lephema Executive Transport, which has a contract with Engen Petroleum to transport petroleum products from South Africa to Lesotho, said they were able to continue as normal despite the strike. The company transports fuel from Engen Petroleum’s refinery in Durban to its main depot in Lesotho and then distributes it across the country.

“Our tankers are going in and out of South Africa without any major challenges at the moment. However, we are now more careful about the routes we use,” said Lephema Executive Transport Operations Manager Godfrey Epnaar in an interview yesterday.

“Our drivers are being escorted in South Africa to ensure their safety and that of our tankers. The vehicles are always under 24 hour surveillance and we are constantly communicating with the drivers if they encounter any problems on the road.”

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