Petrol prices have been a contentious topic in South Africa for many years.

In July 2022, we saw the cost of petrol jump by as much as R2.50 in a single month, resulting in a new record high of R26.74 per litre.

While fuel prices have come down slightly since then, local motorists are still paying as much as R23.34 per litre as of May 2023, which is leaving a big hole in wallets even before considering the knock-on effect this has on the cost on the general cost of living.

Of course, petrol prices are largely dictated by international oil supplies, meaning South Africa is not the only country being affected by the current state of global affairs.

To better understand South Africa’s fuel costs relative to comparable markets, we looked at the price of petrol in Brazil, Russia, India, and China – otherwise known as the BRICS nations.

What is BRICS?

BRICS refers to an economic bloc that was formed in 2006 to represent the four largest emerging economies in the world at the time – Brazil, Russia, India, and China. The acronym was originally spelt without the S, before South Africa was added to the coalition in 2010.

The five countries collectively represent 40% of the world’s population and contribute roughly 26% to global GDP.

The alliance’s purpose is to encourage investment and government collaboration to foster mutually beneficial economic growth between the five nations, which are generally seen as comparable in terms of their economies – relative to their population size.

With that in mind, this is what each of the four BRIC countries is paying for petrol in May 2023:

Country Local petrol price Petrol price in U.S. dollars
Russia 51.25 RUB 0.64 USD
Brazil 5.49 BRL 1.11 USD
China 8.34 CNY 1.19 USD
India 104.18 INR 1.27 USD

The main outlier here is of course Russia, which is a major global oil producer. It would usually be a major petroleum exporter as well but Russia’s invasion of Ukraine in 2022 has resulted in sanctions against the northern European state, meaning Russia is currently sitting on additional reserves that have not been exported.

Interestingly, China is one of the few nations that is still buying large quantities of oil from Russia despite international sanctions, with India also purchasing a considerable amount in recent times.

For better context, here is what the price of petrol in every BRICS participant comes to when converted into rands:

Country Local petrol price Petrol price in rands
Russia 51.25 RUB R12.42
Brazil 5.49 BRL R21.55
China 8.34 CNY R23.10
South Africa R23.34 R23.34
India 104.18 INR R24.65

Again, we see that Russia is the outlier with fuel that is roughly half the price of the other BRICS, while India is paying the most per litre as of May 2023.

Of course, the cost of items doesn’t provide much useful information by itself; instead, it’s best to also look at the average salary to see which country is paying the most, relatively speaking:

These are the average monthly salaries for each of the BRICS:

Country Average salary Average salary in rands
China 29,300 CNY R80,851
Brazil 8,650 BRL R33,796
South Africa 26,032 ZAR R26,032 
Russia 94,900 RUB R23,002
India 27,200 INR R6,383

Note that average salary data should be taken with a pinch of salt, especially given that China, Brazil, and India are three of the highest-population countries in the world.

Even so, the above figures suggest that India is paying the most for fuel relative to the mean wage, while South Africa falls somewhere in the middle both in terms of fuel prices and average incomes.

The outlier in the salary data is of course China, where the typical income appears to be more than twice as much as its peers, but this comes with the qualification that many areas in China have very high living costs, with most cost-of-living websites quoting anywhere from 15,000 to 25,000 Chinese Yuan per month for a household of four.

Keyword: South African petrol price vs Russia, China, Brazil, and India


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