JOHANNESBURG, Oct 2: ATMs lacked cash, fuel stations were running dry and hospitals saw vital coal supplies diminish on Tuesday as South Africa felt the pinch from a truck drivers’ strike that entered its second week.

The strike has halted the delivery of goods across the country, as more than 20,000 workers dig in on their demand for higher wages.

Fuel pump stations have begun to dry up in several areas in Gauteng province, the country’s economic centre, according to the South African Petroleum Industry Association (SAPIA).

“Some garages in Gauteng have been reporting fuel shortages since this past weekend,” said Fani Tshifularo, the association’s spokesman.

“Unfortunately garages do not keep large reserves of fuel on premises, so shortages are likely to occur faster,” he said.

SAPIA warned the public to refrain from panic buying, saying the shortages were not yet widespread.

Since the beginning of the stayaway, striking drivers have torched delivery trucks and assaulted non-striking workers, aggravating the supply crunch.

“We are concerned about the safety of our workers, as a result plans have been made to provide additional security to non-striking workers to deliver fuel,” said Tshifularo.

The strike has also halted the delivery of coal to public hospitals, which need the fuel to operate boilers for cooking and water heating.

The Chris Hani Baragwanath Hospital in Soweto, the largest public hospital in the country, said it had not taken delivery of coal since last week.

“Our stock levels are still good, but if a solution is not found soon our position may change,” said Phumelele Kaunda, the hospital’s spokeswoman.

About 20,000 drivers are seeking a 12-per cent wage increase for 2013 and 2014, more than the rate of inflation, which stands at five per cent.

They have rejected the employers’ offer of an eight-per cent wage increase, and talks have deadlocked.

On Tuesday hundreds of strikers brought central Johannesburg to a crawl, as they marched across the central business district. They handed a memorandum of demands to the offices of the transport sector bargaining council, before dispersing.

“We are here to protest that we need a 12pc (pay rise). Whatever the employer is promising us, it’s just peanuts,” driver Mabule Molelemane said. Other protest marches were held in major cities across the country.

According to transport authorities, 80 per cent of all freight in South Africa is conducted by road.

First National Bank (FNB), one of the country’s four major banks, issued a warning to clients of possible cash shortages at ATM machines.

“Due to the transport strike some FNB ATMs may run out of cash,” read a text messages sent to customers.

Business Unity South Africa (BUSA), an organisation representing business interests, sounded the alarm about the rash of strikes that has hit the country, including the ongoing wildcat stayaways in the mining sector, saying they may have a long-term effect on the economy.

“Strikes not only affect production, the image of the country as an investment destination also suffers,” said chief executive Nomaxabiso Majokweni.

“This determines how the world views South Africa, right now our image is not too pretty,” she said. Majokweni said it was not easy to quantify the cost of the drivers’ strike as not all sectors have suffered equal impact.

According to the Freight Employers’ Association, talks with the drivers will resume on Wednesday.

Meanwhile, major food retailers say they have engaged contingency plans to prevent running out of key fresh produce in stores.

Woolworths, a high-end food retailer, said adequate contingency plans were in place “to keep our stores open and to deliver fresh produce”. —AFP

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