The Market for Petrol

The price of petrol is not something I think about much in the US.  About 2 blocks from my house there are 4 gas stations – one on each corner of the same intersection.  I know that I can (a) always get gas at any of these stations and (b) at least one of the stations will have a relatively low price for the area.

While driving across South Africa in July 2011 the petrol workers went on strike, preventing petrol trucks from leaving the depots and delivering fuel to gas stations across the country. Of course, this happened right as I was headed into the northernmost province – Limpopo Province – on a 400 km road trip.

Being absolutely paranoid about running out of gas somewhere in the middle of nowhere, I stopped for gas at least every 100 km.  Turns out I was lucky.  Since I was traveling between two small towns, I chose to take back-roads (the provincial highways) rather than the national freeway and found gas everywhere I stopped.

But here’s what’s been bugging me about this experience.  Nowhere was I asked to pay more than the government mandated price, despite the fact that there was a pretty severe shortage. (You can read more about last year’s strikes at Mail & Guardian).  I’m of course assuming that it is illegal to ask any price other than the government rate.  But is corruption really that rare?  Why wouldn’t gas station owners (or the guys pumping the petrol for that matter) try to extract an additional rent?

Share your thoughts.  Why did petrol prices not respond to this shock?


DASO’s controversial poster

The Student Organization of South Africa’s Democratic Alliance (DASO) has recently released this poster, which has been met with strong criticism.

Apparently the provincial secretary of COSATU made the following statement: “The posture [sic] says join the DA to have an affair with a white person. The DA thinks our struggle for democracy was about the Immorality Act and the Group Areas Act.”

The Christian Democratic Leader Party’s leader criticized the sexual nature of the poster stating that “At a stage when the country needs higher levels of morality, the DA launches a poster clearly promoting sexual immorality.”

DA Youth Federal Chairperson Mbali Ntuli responded with the following “The conversation is about race, but more than that this poster speaks to the principle of tolerance. This image could be replaced, as you may have all already seen from the parodies, by numerous others that all speak to the same principle. I have seen two young men or women, I have seen one of a Muslim and a Jewish person embracing, one of a Tamil and Hindi person and numerous others. The point is that we live in a country full of people that have forgotten how to tolerate people that seemingly don’t see the world as they do.”  Read the whole statement here.

What do you think?  Is the poster distasteful or a good way to spark a conversation?

Link Roundup

News, tidbits, and stories that you may have missed.

The World Bank and Google Working Together (and why it might not be as good as it sounds at first)

2011 saw a decrease in Pirate Attacks (but I still wouldn’t plan a sailing trip off the coast of Somalia)

Poogle Translate (From South Africa: “…to decipher the double speak, the innuendo and damned lies our beloved public figures enjoy using.”)

PhD Comics: Clue (Sometimes these comics feel a little too personalized).

Elections without parties

Swaziland 2011 - near the Sandlane/Nerston border post.

Did you know that King Mswati of Swaziland is Sub-Saharan Africa’s last absolute monarch?  In the national elections scheduled for 2013, Mswati plans to uphold the ban on political parties.  According to this news story, that “flies in the face of international opinion,” but when I was reading, I couldn’t help but wonder why Mswati is even bothering to hold these pseudo-elections.  What does he hope to gain from this?

Ghandi and Lust-Okar (2009) survey the political literature on why authoritarian leaders hold elections.  While many argue that it is to satisfy the international community, it can also be used to spread the spoils of office, or as a signal the potential opposition supporters that resistance is futile. I wonder what Mswati’s reasoning is?

This reminds me of another paper – Hafner-Burton, Hyde, and Jablonski (2011).  Their paper focuses specifically on human rights violations surrounding elections – arguing that leaders engage in violence when they feel threatened.

It is likely that the complete lack of political parties participating in next year’s election will limit how threatened Mswati feels, but I wonder if the extensive protests and call for reforms that Swaziland has experienced since the 2008 elections could potentially lead to Mswati feeling the need to engage in some decidedly un-kingly behavior.



Zimbabwean Street Vendors Clash with Police

“During the first two weeks of January several police officers were left injured and a police post in the centre of town was forced to close during the clashes. … University of Zimbabwe political lecturer who studies political and social trends, Eldred Masunungure, told the local Daily News newspaper that although it is unheard of in Zimbabwe to fight with the police, the fact that civilians are starting to do so is a sign of the times.”

Read the full story HERE.  The author draws an interesting parallel between the start of the Arab Spring and the Zim vendors’ newly found determination to fight police crackdowns.

Flooding in Mpumalanga, South Africa

There are some scary pictures floating around the interwebs about the flooding in South Africa, yet it didn’t even make it into the headlines of any of my regularly perused news sources.  Thank goodness for Facebook!

This picture from shows what was previously a bridge* over the Crocodile River in the Kruger National Park.  Rain has fallen at an almost unwordly rate. “Over the past 48 hours, 109mm of rain was recorded around Mbombela, 139mm around Skukuza and 270.9mm around Hoedspruit.”

For those of us who speak in inches – 109mm is more than 4 inches and 270mm translates to more than 10 inches.  Crossing my fingers that the rain slows down soon!

*I would like to point out that I’m fairly certain the bridge in the picture above is a low water bridge.  Look at THIS picture and see if you agree.



The torrential downpours and flooding also hit Mozambique and Malawi placing thousands in danger.