JOHANNESBURG A strike by South African fuel workers entered a fifth day on Friday, prompting motorists in the economic capital to queue at filling stations as stocks dwindled.
"It has been a mad rush since 3 a.m. (0100 GMT) this morning," said Ashwin Chiba, manager of a filling station in the centre of Johannesburg, one of the few still with fuel.
"Cars have been streaming in here non-stop as people are panicking that they might not have petrol for the weekend."
He added that although fuel companies still had petrol in depots, this could not reach retail outlets because depot workers and fuel tanker drivers had downed tools.
The strike by members of the Chemical, Energy, Paper, Printing, Wood and Allied Workers Union (CEPPWAWU) has already shut down one refinery, partially hobbled another and disrupted output at pharmaceutical and packaging companies.
The union said earlier on Friday that it had settled with pharmaceutical firms.
SAPREF, South Africa's largest oil refinery owned jointly by Shell and BP, continued operations as normal, a spokesman said.
Striking workers were backed by South Africa's powerful Congress of South African Trade Unions (COSATU) labour federation and the South African Communist Party on Friday.
"We don't care about those who are already screaming about the fact that there is no petrol in the garages," COSATU secretary general Zwelinzima Vavi told a workers' rally in Johannesburg.
"Don't come to the victims ... go to those who are giving us peanuts and tell them that they must stop giving us peanuts so that there can be petrol in all garages tomorrow," he added.
France Bethuel, manager of a car rental fleet in Johannesburg's city centre, said he was trying to fill up all of his cars because he was not sure when the strike would end.
The union has said the strike would continue until its wage demands were met.
Employers from the various sectors were offering wage increases ranging from 6.5 to eight percent, but the union has demanded a 10 percent wage increase.
Businessman Deco Roque said he only heard about the fuel shortage on Friday morning and decided to buy reserves to take him at least into next week.
"It is worrying, I have bought nearly 180 litres and have filled up my two trucks just in case all the stations runs dry".
Wilmore Khumalo, administrator at a petrol station in Johannesburg's Sandton business district said that they might run out of fuel on Friday night. (Reuters) -