MASERU — An acute shortage of cooking gas has hit Lesotho prompting retailers to hike the price of the commodity by 100 percent in the past week.
The gas shortage comes after major refineries in South Africa, Lesotho’s main supplier, shut down for the post-winter maintenance works.
The National Energy Resource, which runs Easigas Lesotho, said it is now importing gas from Europe. The company said most of its gas was coming from Russia.
Afrox, South Africa’s largest supplier of liquid petroleum gas, has also been forced to import from Europe following the temporary closure of refineries in July.
Most Lesotho’s gas comes from Afrox.
The shortage has also been exacerbated by a fire that damaged Engen’s refinery in Durban in October.
Liquid petroleum gas is produced at five refineries in South Africa.
The temporary closure of the ones in Durban, Johannesburg and Mossel Bay has created gas shortage in some provinces, as well as Lesotho, Botswana and Mozambique.
Some retailers in Lesotho have capitalised on the shortage and doubled their gas prices in just two weeks.
For instance a nine-kilogramme gas cylinder which cost M130 two weeks ago is now ranging between M230 and M260 at some retail shops.
A 14 kilogrammes gas that went for M240 is now sold at M480.
The manager of Letšosa General Dealer in Maseru, Manki Letšosa, said he had to increase prices when the stock he had ran out quickly and he had to buy from a fellow retailer.
“There was no gas from my regular supplier and I had to buy gas from other retailers so that my customers would not go home empty-handed,” Letšosa said.
“Gas has been scarce for the past two weeks but I never thought it would be like this,” he said. ’Mampho Rammiki, who runs M Food and Catering Services in Teya-teyaneng, said if the gas prices continue to skyrocket they might be forced to close shop.
“The soaring of gas prices is likely to force us to close our businesses because most of our customers will not afford the new prices that we will be compelled to charge for food,” Rammiki said.
“Without affordable gas, I do not see how we are going to continue with business.”
Gas is also used by thousands of street vendors in the catering business.
’Malintša Moremoholo, a street vendor in Maseru West Industrial Area, said she has to double her prices or face collapse.
“The profitability of cooked food has its basis on the price of fuel. If fuel is expensive you are forced to increase your price,” Moremoholo said. Moremoholo sells a plate of papa, vegetables and meat for M25 but after the recent jump in gas prices she is considering pushing the price to M50. “Many of my customers are already complaining that M25 is unaffordable to them. How will they cope when I increase the food price to M50? Surely, I will find myself out of business.”
Moremoholo’s sentiments are shared by many food vendors.
Many households in all Lesotho urban and sub-urban areas rely on gas for cooking.
So do many businesses, especially those in the rural areas where there is no electricity.
’Mankiri Keresiane, a Semonkong resident who also owns a small public bar, told the Sunday Express on Friday that she had come to Maseru to buy stock as well as gas for cooking and refrigeration.
She said she managed to fill only one cylinder for the beer business because she could not afford the new price.
“I will use firewood to cook. I only have to buy gas for a fridge at my pub,” she said.
Afrox’s spokesman Simon Miller is quoted in the media saying the high demand for gas during winter and the closure of a number of refineries for maintenance simultaneously have reduced the supply.
The gas shortage has also hit Botswana and Mozambique who also rely on South Africa for supplies.
Media reports say in Gaborone, Botswana’s capital, the main retailers have run out of gas.
South Africans were also experiencing the shortage but were spared the price hike because of the regulation restricting gas price increase.