Hear ye! Hear ye! Gauteng's e-tolling system, with a build-up bigger than a pay-per-view fight, as awaited as Y2K, is here. The South African National Road Agency Limited (Sanral) is confident people are taking the bait. Opposition groups remain as opposed as ever. Daily Maverick spoke to motorists on the street who are cautiously adopting a wait-and-see approach. By GREG NICOLSON & THAPELO LEKGOWA
Smash your child’s porcelain piggy bank, count your five-cent coins – e-tolling has begun! For the cost of a few Kaizer Chiefs funeral plans, you too can drive on the now smoother highway between Johannesburg, Pretoria and beyond without the fear of having your collection of 80s rock vinyl LPs repossessed or the risk of being prosecuted and sharing a cell with Radovan Krejcir.
“What are you in for?” is an awkward question for any toll transgressor.
“Allegations of ruling the underworld and ordering hits,” Krejcir would reply.
“Organising my community to get the sewerage cleaned off our streets and then being hit by rubber bullets,” the community activist would respond.
“Repeatedly driving from Melrose Arch to Centurion without an e-tag” sounds a little lame and will probably cost you your watch.
Sanral and the Department of Transport continued to push the tolling system as the gantries started taking happy shots overnight. “In the midst of anti-tolling campaigns, motorists have still gone out in their numbers to prove that they are law-abiding citizens,” said the department.
Lawyers representing Sanral in a case trying urgently to stop the tolling said that, no, the apocalypse won’t descend when fees are collected. “When they go under the gantries tomorrow, the world is not going to end […] they will just pay tolls,” they told the North Gauteng High Court.
The court application, brought by the Freedom Front Plus, was deemed not to be urgent, but the system still faces much resistance. A statement signed by church leaders predicted dire consequences. “The resistance of large numbers of people will, in the light of such intransigence from our leaders, inevitably result in the use of strong-arm tactics to try and enforce this system,” they said on Monday.
“Intimidation and threats will increasingly become the order of the day – to force people to collaborate through fear of reprisal. The use of legal coercion and e-tolling ‘kitskonstabels’ is not a solution, but it may appear to be ‘the only way’ – to those determined to force this discredited system down the throats of our people. Increasing confrontation may result in the adoption of undesirable and even violent tactics.”
Church leaders (on God’s orders?) refuse to buy e-tags and “pay this unjust e-toll”. The DA and Cosatu both remain against e-tolls, with the former planning more court action and the latter briefing media this morning on its plan of action. Asked whether Economic Freedom Fighters (EFF) would get e-tags, Commissar Andile Mngxitama offered this gem: “I am not getting an e-tag because I am a loyal member of the revolutionary movement EFF that has taken an ethical and correct position on the legalised thieving and pick pocketing of the people. It is unjust to respect unjust laws. We must defy the stupidity of power. The ANC is power drunk just like the apartheid regime. Only the people can change this.”
On the streets, motorists are less certain. Pick n Pay’s Rosebank store sold out of e-tags on Monday (about 150 units). Around 750,000 e-tags are reported to have been sold so far, but 1-million road users are estimated to use the highways each day.
Moshadi, who works in banking near the Rosebank store and did not want her surname mentioned, says she plans to resist the system. “I am not buying an e-tag mainly because it is going to take money that I don’t have out of me. I am not earning much and it is really going to kill me. I am scared though as I don’t have it. Today I saw many people buying them and it is those people who will make this go through while some of us are opposing it.” Moshadi says she will join public protests against e-tolls, if her boss gives her the time off.
In Melville, layout designer Eppy Strydom, 36, rides a motorbike and uses the toll roads “once in a while”. She doesn’t have an e-tag yet and is in two minds about what to do. On the one hand, she doesn’t feel people should have to pay for a public road, but the system has been challenged in court and is still being implemented, so that should be respected. “The other thing practically is if I don’t get tagged, it’s going to be more expensive,” says Strydom. She plans to wait and see. She will test whether Sanral is able to administer the system, whether her vehicle is identified and whether an invoice arrives in the mail.
At a garage in Rosebank, Nonkululeko Twala, 28, a debtor’s clerk, says she doesn’t have an e-tag but one of the two routes she can take to work uses the tolled highways. She doesn’t plan to sign up, but won’t defy the system. Twala says she will use the back roads, which so far have been more efficient anyway. She feels the system has not been explained properly to motorists. “It’s too expensive,” she says, citing other road costs such as rising fuel prices and registration fees. “It’s just so much.”
Nicolas, who didn’t want his surname mentioned, is a 31-year-old software developer. He has bought an e-tag. (He took it apart and examined the internal workings.) He uses the tolled highways about once a week. The required public participation process was not followed in the implementation of the policy, he says. He adds that work started on improving the highways, the World Cup came and went, and then all of a sudden gantries were being built. “Basically, there was no consultation from Sanral, no public participation, or not to the degree that there should have been,” says Nicolas. He’ll use the tolled roads but will make sure he is only charged for what he has actually used.
As the system starts today, it seems the average Joe who is against e-tolls doesn’t plan to stage a long-term campaign or risk criminal prosecution, but will rather test the system, putting its administration under pressure by making it as hard as possible for Sanral to collect its dues. Whether e-tolls survives will depend on how well Sanral is prepared and whether it can cope under the weight of its own lofty ambitions. DM
Photo: An e-toll booth in Quagga Centre in Pretoria. (SAPA)
There is a 24 hour "LeMons" race where drivers must compete in cars that cost $500 or less.