South Africa

South Africa

E-tolls: to pay up or join the ranks of the ungovernable?

E-tolls: to pay up or join the ranks of the ungovernable?

In case you haven't heard, those white ornaments above the Gauteng highways go live today. E-tolling has officially started. Joy. As this is aimed squarely at the middle class, we asked our middle-class correspondent, STEPHEN GROOTES, to meditate over what one should do. Should you pay? Or should you join the ranks of the ungovernable?

I’ve always wanted to be part of making something ungovernable. It’s a nice word that. Ungovernable. I know of one or two dogs that should have been called that. And every cat ever. But I’ve always thought it would be fun. The thrill of protest, the exhilaration of driving through the gantry going “nah nah nah nah nah”. The slight fear when the Sanral car drives up behind you, and the relief when it goes away again. And then the “so what”.

Seriously, what are they going to do? Take my car? No. Take my kids? No. Take my liberty? Vusi Mona can spin a good tale, but he’s not that powerful…

So then, why pay at all? Um.

I live a nice middle-class existence. Which means I have the resources to smooth out the bumps in life when I need to. So I could, if I wanted to, buy that panic-button service Wayne Duvenage and OUTA were going on about. Apparently, if you press it, someone is on the line immediately with “legal knowledge”. Which sounds like someone with pimples and an A-4 page in front of him with the heading “Legal points to bring up when you are pulled over by Sanral” and drawn up by Howard Dembovsky (the founding member of Justice Project South Africa, for those of you who were wondering).

It sounds like something worth trying though. It’s cheap, like 50 bucks a month. And the best bit is that the money goes to someone I actually kinda believe in. Not government.

Which is what e-tolls is really about, isn’t it. Our collective frustration and mistrust of government. At Nkandla, and the arms deal, and the R30-billion that our wonderful ministers misspent last year. Why should I pay for Blade Nzimande’s two Mercs? )And he wants Irwin Jim to go through a lifestyle audit! You first, buddy!)

I’m not keen on financing Nathi Mthethwa’s new fence either. And it sounds like fun to join Zwelinzima Vavi in the streets and yell “political hyenas” whenever someone who looks vaguely political roars past.

It’s always cool to be poor. But never really cool to be rich. So dancing in the streets with Cosatu does have that ring to it. But one never knows whom one might bump into. Like Mavis’s eldest who works in a factory. Hell, I’d never remember his name. And I certainly don’t know his surname.

But we all know I’m not going to do that. The middle classes don’t protest in South Africa. That’s not how we roll. We phone radio stations and write letters signed “Disgusted of Sandhurst” and “Aggrieved of Yeoville”. And spend hours on Twitter complaining about it, hoping that Gareth or Redi or Anele will agree with us. Oh, and we all have a nice moan around the fire on a Saturday after the rugby. And mention how Mavis agrees with us.

It’s taken me three difficult conversations with the wife just to get the “Stop e-tolls” sticker on my car. And the dog licked half of it off before the toddler spent a full day peeling it off. It’s the height of public protest.

What about my conscience? Isn’t one of the very definitions of being middle class is that you obey the law? That every morning in Blairgowrie as Conrad Drive backs up by a couple of kilometres, people still behave very nicely and let each other in – it feels good to be a part of that. And to all have an intense frown together at the taxis that drive down the wrong side of the road right in front of the police van.

Isn’t not paying your toll fees the same as not having a number plate? It’s not gangsta, it’s actually just criminal.

And there’s the wife again … she’s on about something about licence discs. Something about how they’ll make it impossible to renew your disc unless your tolls are up to date. Oh we all know how this will end. One morning, after reading Ranjeni Munusamy on this site, or the Sunday papers, I’ll declare to those in my home who listen to me (i.e. the dog) that Sanral can go and stuff themselves. So no e-tag for me. Which means, as a revolutionary tactic, Sanral will have to send it by the post. And there aren’t many better ways to lose paperwork. Especially if it’s not sent registered mail. Which looks like a fine, so you never collect it anyway.

Then I’ll have to get a new licence disc, and be confronted with a bill for a few grand, before getting that disc, because of the unpaid tolling fees.

But surely someone enterprising will work out a system to get around that? Isn’t the whole disc thing just a scam so the provinces can have some income? Surely someone should challenge the entire process on the grounds that it actually serves no purpose. And this e-tolls thing might give someone that idea.

And come on. This is South Africa. Before Christmas someone will be selling discs that look awfully like the original ones. And how’s a cop to know the difference? Especially at those night-time roadblocks.

Oh, hold on. I’m descending pretty quickly from the middle class here. It’s a slippery slope from behaving like someone from Blairgowrie to acting like Kenny Kunene. I blame e-tolls. And Vusi Mona. And Jacob Zuma. As the representative of the middle class, he’s always to blame anyway.

I think I’ll do what I normally do. I’m going to see how all this pans out. And if I end up in a Sanral shop, it’ll be because I’ve lost the fight with the wife. And I’ll hope like hell that no one sees me. DM

Stephen Grootes is an EWN reporter and member of the middle class.

Photo: A sticker is seen on a truck parked outside Cosatu’s headquarters in Johannesburg, Thursday, 14 November 2013. Picture: Werner Beukes/SAPA


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