Puzzled at the pump: Why price of diesel goes up while petrol goes down

South Africans have welcomed another month of much-needed relief at the petrol pump.
But, the diesel price per litre is reversing the trend and has become more expensive. Diesel drives the economy, which means we face further pressure on food prices and the general cost of living.

Despite a floundering Rand, the oil price has receded from shocking highs following the Russian invasion of Ukraine. However, this reprieve may be temporary.

While the oil price has come down, the world’s energy markets remain a mess. Economies that were reliant on Russian imports are having to seek alternative sources for fuels.
Simply put, diesel is facing a supply and demand problem. There just isn’t enough to go around.

Close-up of petrol pumps dispending Shell fuel. A white person's right arm in a purple sleeve is holding the pump on the left.

It’s been a tough year for motorists and the transport sector. Photo: Jesse Donoghoe

Diesel is primarily an industrial fuel. It powers the tractors that plant and harvest our food,the trucks that bring almost everything we buy to the places we buy them from. It also supplies electricity from Eskom’s open cycle gas turbine generators.

Meanwhile, South Africa has lost nearly all of its domestic fuel refining capacity. This makes the country even more vulnerable to global market forces than before.

Solutions to bring down the diesel price per litre

One way of lowering demand for diesel is to move towards cleaner, proven and emerging technologies. It has never been more important to drive the adoption of electric and hydrogen-powered vehicles. Yet, South Africa still penalises those who wish to switch to cleaner mobility. 

Instead, it seems like the government is incentivising us to keep guzzling fossil fuels. Importing a vehicle with an internal combustion engine carries a tax rate of 18 per cent. Electric vehicles are penalised with a hefty 25 per cent.

A staggering 6 per cent of the South African government’s tax revenue comes from the fuel levies motorists pay on every litre of fuel they buy.

There are sustainable solutions to our problems but we need will from the government to implement the correct policies.