Nyalungu, “Fuel Price Hikes Hammer South Africa’s Working Class” (2017)

Fuel Price Hikes Hammer South Africa’s Working Class

by Philip Nyalungu

21 September 2017

A sharp increase in fuel prices on Wednesday 6 September will hit the working class and poor hardest. Petrol, diesel and paraffin now cost 67c, 44c and 65c more, respectively. This is the fifth fuel increase this year. Economists have warned more will be disastrous.

The official reasons for the price hike are rising crude oil costs and the weak Rand. Government tax is also rising. Energy Minister Mamoloko Kubayi claims 4.6 cents a litre will go towards salary increases for petrol station workers.

The reality is rising prices get passed directly onto ordinary people by, for example, increases in taxi fares and food prices. LP gas, which with paraffin is the main fuels used in poor households, is up 86 cents a kilogram. Rising prices affect jobs, and many workers are vulnerable.

Informal economic activities, like street vending of food, are harmed, also affecting low-paid consumers like taxi drivers and petrol pump attendants. It is not clear how 4.6 cents a litre of petrol tax will supposedly get into the pockets of petrol station workers. If it does, it will just vanish due to rising prices. South African capitalism, enabled by the state machinery, rests upon cheap black labour, and the working class and poor majority continue to suffer. Real freedom remains far off.

Rising prices are part of the ongoing inflation problem in capitalism that keeps reducing real wages. Owners of the means of production, including oil refineries and fuel chains, the banks and the state, have the power to increase prices and devalue currency, and so, increase profits by increasing poverty.

But the victims, workers and their families, lack both economic power and political influence. So long as the economy remains under the control of the bosses and politicians, rather than the broad working class, problems like endless price rises will continue. Only class struggle from below through counter-power, aiming at a better society, based on self-management, collective property and participatory planning, can move us from this track. This requires working class autonomy from the parties and the state.


About Lucien van der Walt

I teach at Rhodes University, the Eastern Cape. I’m South African, born and bred. I am currently also involved in union education and have a background in social movement and left-wing activism, the Workers’ Library and Museum, the Anti-Privatisation Forum, and the National Health and Allied Workers Union (NEHAWU). I’ve presented papers at more than 120 conferences and workshops, published in key journals like 'Capital and Class' and 'Labor History', have co-edited 3 journal specials (these on global labour history, African labour, and unions in the Global South), and written well over 130 other articles, papers and entries. I was Southern Africa editor for the 2009 'International Encyclopaedia of Revolution and Protest' (Blackwell). My focus has been on South Africa, but I have also done research in Zambia and Zimbabwe. I won the 2008 international 'Labor History' thesis prize, and the 2008/2009 Council for the Development of Social Science Research prize for best African dissertation, for my PhD thesis on South African anarchism, syndicalism and black militants. I have several books, including 'Negro e Vermelho: anarquismo, sindicalismo revolucionário e pessoas de cor na África Meridional nas décadas de 1880-1920,' and 'Anarchism and Syndicalism in the Colonial and Postcolonial World, 1880-1940: the praxis of national liberation, internationalism, and social revolution' (co-edited with Steve Hirsch, Brill, 2010/ 2014).