The recent Automechanika Johannesburg and Futuroad exhibitions, staged at the Johannesburg Expo Centre, featured several important conferences, with those of the Fuel Retailers’ Association (FRA) and SA Bus Operators’ Association (SABOA) attracting more than 100 delegates each, as well as being online for virtual delegates.
The very well-run RFA conference, which had prominent television personality Professor JJ Tabane as its Programme Director, ran for two days and was packed with interesting and relevant addresses. This included an address by Dr. Blade Nzimande, Minister of Higher Education, Science and Technology.
The Minister said that there was a big drive by his department on training and skills development, especially among the youth, in 2022 and he was pleased the FRA was playing a key role.
“Through the FRA Membership Skills Development Initiative, the Wholesale and Retail Sector Education and Training Authority (W&RSETA) has allocated R60 million towards the programme where 1 000 learners and 400 skills programmes are made available to unemployed youth,” said Nzimande. “I value this project as it ensures that (some) of our young people are engaged in a form of socio-economic activity.
“The FRA has also received an allocation of 35 unemployed learnerships from the W&RSETA’s Discretionary Funding to the value of R2.2 million in the current financial year. In addition, the W&RSETA has invested R21 million towards the Service Station Readiness Programme which has 1 000 beneficiaries. These include current fuel retailers expanding their businesses, budding retailers wishing to enter the industry as well as individuals who wish to occupy managerial positions in the fuel retailing sector,” added Nzimande.
Another senior government official who addressed the delegates was Tseliso Maqubela, Deputy Director-General of Minerals and Petroleum Regulations at the Department of Mineral, Resources and Energy Department.
He said strong steps are being taken to discourage the adulteration of petrol and diesel fuel with the addition of paraffin in these times of high fuel prices. These steps included the use of tracer dies in fuel. Transgressors face fines and could even have their businesses closed. Maqubela also appealed to municipal authorities to implement by-laws to prevent mobile fuelling, which is extremely dangerous, as well as illegal trading in fuel.
Following questions from the floor, Maqubela said there were only two local fuel refineries operating currently, while the Sapref facility in Durban was to have re-opened with new owners, but this deal is now in jeopardy after the refinery was severely damaged in the recent KZN floods. He said there was the possibility of a new refinery being built at Richards Bay in the future. (At one stage in the past there were six refineries operating in South Africa).
A considerable amount of time was spent discussing and debating deregulation of the fuel industry, with the FRA taking a stance that it would be a dangerous path to take given the comparatively small margin on fuel and the fact that this business employed 83 000 people and unemployment was already a major challenge for the country.
Reggie Sibiya, the CEO of the FRA, said that the industry was still waiting for compensation dating back to 2010 when consumers were able for the first time to buy fuel on their credit cards and the retailers had to carry the relevant bank charges ever since.
“The current charge is 42c per litre, which is a significant amount in today’s business world, but we continue to carry this burden,” said Sibiya.