Cape Town short on paraffin

Communities without electricity that depend on paraffin for heating and cooking have been struggling for weeks

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Photo of a paraffin heater
There have been complaints from communities about the scarcity of paraffin. Photo: Mary-Anne Gontsana

It is winter and a scarcity of paraffin and inflated prices is making life even harder in some communities. Residents complain of exaggerated prices and having to fork out for gas heaters and gas stoves because they can’t find paraffin.

Since two weeks ago, popular Gugulethu supermarkets and petrol stations have been out of paraffin, and those individuals that do sell it have doubled their price from R10 a litre to R20 a litre.

Sandisiwe Mvula from Gugulethu said she uses paraffin for her heater which she also cooks on.

“My heater doubles up as a stove, because electricity is expensive and we try to save as much as we can, so sometimes I will cook on it or boil water for washing. There are six of us in the house. It has been a struggle since last week Wednesday to get paraffin here.”

She says they usually buy paraffin from a Somali spaza shop for R12 a litre, but it is out of stock.

Last week, a long queue formed outside the petrol station on Steve Biko Drive. Residents stood in line with bottles of different sizes, waiting to buy paraffin. Another queue also formed at a garage in Philippi. Residents say some people even slept at the garage, waiting for the paraffin delivery for the next day.

Phindile Liti, also from Gugulethu, says, “This happens every year. If paraffin doesn’t run out, then gas does. Our family bought a gas heater last year because of not being able to get paraffin. We are used to this, but it is very frustrating and it is costly, especially for those who also use paraffin for light.”

People have taken to social media to complain about the shortages. One Facebook user asked a relative on their way from the Eastern Cape to bring paraffin.

Another user wrote: ‘Anyone wanna make big bucks, fast? Come sell paraffin in Cape Town, now.’

Someone else posted: ‘1 litre paraffin in Cape Town. Samora R25 haaa kunzima (it’s hard).’

Vuyolwethu Ntaba lives in the Wetlands informal settlement in Masiphumelele, which does not have electricity since a fire in November 2015. He says the area he lives in is always wet and cold and he has to use use a heater. Ntaba lives with his girlfriend and says they use paraffin for cooking and heating.

“It gets very cold here because it is a wetland … I would use eight to ten litres of paraffin per week and that would cost me R100, but now it’s double the price. I do not have R200 to spend on paraffin every week,” says Ntaba

Shoprite said paraffin will be available at the Philippi branch on Tuesday, and it has been out of paraffin since last week. Shoprite in Gugulethu Mall has been out of paraffin for two weeks and they currently do not know when they will get supplies again. Spar in Philippi has also run out and also doesn’t know when paraffin will be available again. One of the employees said they had paraffin sometime last week, but the stock was sold out within minutes.

Robert Maake, Director of Fuel Pricing Mechanism in the Department of Energy, confirmed that there was a paraffin shortage, not only in Cape Town but nationally. He said the shortage was due to technical problems at oil refineries. He said, since the paraffin was imported, supply was expected next week between 17 and 18 July.

Maake said traders were selling it at high prices, whereas the price should be R9,79 a litre.

He urged people to report the problem to the regional department so that it could be investigated. The number is 021 446 3307.

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