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South African motorists are wondering if their government is taking them for a ride.

The government has announced a 4.8 percent increase in the price of gasoline - now about $2.30 per gallon - in the face of slipping international oil prices.

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Some suspect international efforts to isolate South Africa for its racial policies are at work. With many oil-exporting countries unwilling to sell oil openly to South Africa, the inference drawn is that South Africa has had to sign long-term contracts with built-in price rises to be assured of supplies.

The South African minister of mineral and energy affairs insists the contracts are not the cause of the price hike. Rather, he blames the rise, indirectly, on the United States. South Africa pays for oil in US dollars and the dramatic depreciation of the rand against the dollar has necessitated the increase, he says. (In early 1981 one rand bought $1.35; now it's worth 95 cents.)

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