About 2km before reaching Zenzele, an informal settlement in Westonaria, Randfontein, we bumped into Nomsa Khumalo.
Her clothing ragged and dirty, her skin dry and covered in dirt, the old lady and her friend had spent the morning chopping firewood in the bush outside the settlement. This is a daily excursion for Khumalo.
“I wake up every morning to go and fetch firewood for cooking so I can use the paraffin for light and to keep warm in winter,” she said.
She is one of thousands of South Africans whose households are affected by the recent fuel hikes.
Not long after speaking to Khumalo, Lazarus Mabelebele, a pensioner, parked his bicycle on the dusty road to exchange a few words with the women. He looked exhausted from pedalling a bicycle with water hanging from his handle bars and materials to make cowhide drums tied to the back.
He said, “I have four people to take care of at home as the breadwinner, but the money I get from my pension is not enough, especially now. I cannot afford to put light in the house.”
Turning this desperate hunt for alternative heat sources into a business, Gqibile Nocuze, a middle-aged man who has been living in the settlement for 21 years, said he woke up early every morning to cut firewood, which he sold to his neighbours.
He said he spent hours in the bush to make sure he collected enough before calling someone with a vehicle to transport his firewood back to the settlement.
“On a good day if I get three customers I can make enough money to feed my family,” he said. “But it is not always enough, like today, I wasn’t able to buy a loaf of bread.”
He also added that while paraffin and food prices were increasing, many people within the settlement did not have jobs.
“Paraffin used to be about R5 for two litres when I first moved here, now it’s R22 and it’s still increasing, while there’s no money coming in. Food and fuel prices are going up but there are no jobs, mines are closing and nobody has money. That’s why the crime here is increasing, no one can afford to live anymore. It’s terrible!”
Anastasia Mandze, business owner who sold paraffin to the Zenzele community, bowed her head in despair when we asked how her business had been performing.
“We don’t make profit anymore, people no longer have money,” she said.
There was a time when she was able to provide for her family of four, but since the fuel hike, her sales had reduced dramatically.
Their woes look set to increase. Fuel prices are already at an all-time high and appear to be going up by around 32c/l for petrol, 30c for diesel and 22c for illuminating paraffin, according to the latest forecasts by the Automobile Association.
This means, it will be a cold, difficult winter for the people of Zenzele – and others like them around the country.