Gauteng ANC chairperson Paul Mashatile had lined things up on Friday. “It’s not that I don't like Sanral (the SA National Roads Agency Limited), but they must know their place. Government agencies don’t run the country, the ANC does… Sanral cannot tell us what to do. We tell them what to do.” After that, there could definitely be no holding back. The Gauteng ANC provincial conference resolved on Sunday that they do not support e-tolls in the current form. The outcome on e-tolls is not unexpected and it is not in isolation from broader dynamics between the province and the national leadership. So what happens next – apart from the fact that even more people will be unwilling to handover their money to Sanral? By RANJENI MUNUSAMY.
Paul Mashatile’s political report at the opening of the 12th ANC Gauteng provincial conference was a veritable treasure chest. Political reports are normally something like diagnostic analyses – the state of the organisation, the state of the country, the problems, the successes, what the conference should be dealing with and possible threats.
Sometimes they can go horribly wrong and turn the conference against you, as Thabo Mbeki discovered at the ANC’s Polokwane conference in 2007. Sometimes you just hit the right notes, and capture the sentiment on the conference floor, even before the delegates start deliberating, and provide the line of march. That is what Mashatile did. And for his trouble, he was re-elected uncontested as ANC chairperson in Gauteng.
He gave a frank assessment of the ANC’s performance in the 2014 elections, the socio-economic problems and the shame of corruption. “No one convicted of criminal offences should be allowed to occupy leadership positions in any structures of the ANC and its leagues. It is also incumbent upon our structures to ensure that members who are charged with criminal offences or accused of offences that bring disrepute to the ANC should promptly appear before the integrity committee so as to clear their names and allow for corrective measures to take place by the organisation,” Mashatile said.
“The ANC should be led by men and women who are incorruptible,” he went on to say. When talking about “ill-discipline, anarchy and criminality” in the organisation, Mashatile selected a poignant quote from former ANC president Oliver Tambo: “No one will destroy the ANC. The ANC will destroy itself!”
It has become a trend in the ANC and amongst its allies that political speeches are used to drub the opposition and uncritically defend their own leaders, particularly President Jacob Zuma, against what they perceive to be a public and media onslaught.
Mashatile did not do that. He did not seek to ingratiate himself with the president or the bosses at Albert Luthuli House by mentioning the various forces supposedly plotting against Zuma on Nkandla. He did not try to justify wrongdoing, as is so common the case.
What he did do was crank open the e-tolls matter, which the national ANC leadership had firmly shut down. Mashatile said the review panel set up by Gauteng Premier David Makhura should be supported by the conference. “The work of the panel will inform us on the best financing model for public infrastructure across our province. Hence, its outcomes need to be carefully considered for us to continue to build world-class road infrastructure that supports our radical transformation agenda.”
Mashatile also revealed that Makhura had consulted “head office” before setting up the review panel, and had even consulted the president. This was to illustrate that the province had not gone off on its own foray on e-tolls, but was working in tandem with the national leadership.
But this information is quite strange, to say the least. ANC secretary general Gwede Mantashe is on record defending the e-tolls on several occasions, saying people should not consider them to be a pest, but should rather appreciate the world-class infrastructure they made possible. Mantashe has also made it clear that the issue could not be debated ad infinitum and had to be shut down. There were media reports that Mantashe had told Sanral and the transport department to snub the panel.
Zuma himself has come out in strong defence of the e-tolls. In one famous public engagement – ironically an election event hosted by the Gauteng ANC – Zuma said the Gauteng roads were up to international standards, “not some national road in Malawi”.
So did the election results in Gauteng, which saw the ANC drop almost 11% in support, wake Zuma and Mantashe to the reality of the mass opposition of e-tolls in the province, or are they simply humouring Makhura and the e-toll haters?
What then was nature of the discussion between Zuma and Makhura before the premier set up the review panel? “Consultation” suggests it was not Makhura simply informing the president of his intentions, particularly as this has been such a delicate issue to navigate publicly. When asked what was Zuma’s understanding of the purpose of the review panel, Makhura said he could not divulge his discussions with the president.
But if Zuma had consented to the establishment of the panel, it means that he has to be open to its conclusions and recommendations. Or perhaps they are giving Makhura enough rope to hang himself as the province has no powers or ability to scrap the system or change the funding model to collect revenue through another means. The only way the citizens of the province would be angrier was if, on top of having to pay e-tolls, they had to pay for an expensive inquiry which served no purpose.
But the Gauteng provincial conference has now pronounced the issue in no uncertain terms, meaning it would be really difficult for national government or Luthuli House to ignore the resolutions.
A printed copy of the conference declaration given to journalists during the closing session said, quite obscurely, that the incoming provincial executive committee (PEC) would “have to ensure that we take forward the implementation of the outcomes of the review panel”. This turned out to be the draft declaration before it was put to the conference floor. Delegates demanded stronger wording and for text to make their position unequivocal.
The final declaration reads: “The ANC in Gauteng should make a submission to this panel. Conference accepts the user pay principle but Gauteng’s economy benefits the whole country. The current system is too expensive. Traffic flow is negatively affected by urban tolling. We would rather have a fuel levy for this administered by SARS (the South African Revenue Service).
The declaration goes on to say “Conference does not support the implementation of e-tolls in their current form. The PEC will work with the ANC national leadership on this matter to ensure that the ANC speaks with one voice.”
One voice? The suggestion inherent is that the rest of the ANC would come around to their line of thought.
Makhura told a media briefing at the end of the provincial conference that the ANC had no policy on e-tolls so there was no need to take the issue to one of its senior decision-making bodies such as next year’s national general council to be reviewed. This has perhaps been missed in a lot of the discourse around the e-tolls. The user-pay system is not contained in any ANC resolutions and therefore there was never any political decision that led to the establishment of e-tolling. It was a clumsy decision that came almost as an afterthought, which is why it remains difficult to defend politically.
Mashatile said the newly elected PEC would formulate a submission on behalf of the ANC in Gauteng to be submitted to the review panel before it completes its work at the end of November.
The question remains though: can the recommendations of the panel actually lead to the system being scrapped or reviewed. It all depends on the essence of the discussion between the president of the country and the premier of Gauteng, which South Africa in all likelihood will not be privy to.
The big problem for the transport department and Sanral is that this weekend’s resolution from the Gauteng conference will mean that even fewer people will be willing to pay for using the tolled roads. For as long as there is uncertainty on the matter and a vague possibility of the system being scrapped, motorists will continue to snub the e-tolls.
But there is also talk about whether Gauteng is using the e-tolls issue as a proxy battle for something else – perhaps sending out a signal to the national ANC that a bigger fight is coming. They would be silly to do so. Factional battles have been fought and lost on the bases of proxies in the past and the Gauteng leadership is far too wily to follow the Julius Malema-nationalisation model of crashing and burning in the ANC.
If they are to succeed, they will have to fight each battle on its own merits, and the e-tolls issue certainly cannot be tied to other complex matters such as succession. It would be suicidal to do so.
Gauteng came out firing out of its conference, with many resolutions that could set trends nationally. Even though neither the president nor the secretary general set foot at the conference, the national leadership will have to seriously consider the outcomes. They will have to consolidate their efforts if they are retain control of the province’s municipalities in the 2016 local government elections, which, given this year’s election results, is likely to be a titanic battle.
But what the national leaders also have on their hands is the leadership of South Africa’s industrial powerhouse that survived the Mangaung’s purgatory and two years later emerged seemingly stronger and more unified than ever. In many ways, they are ideologically at odds with the otherwise omni-powerful national leadership. Will this apparent asymmetry destabilise the foundations of the ANC’s big house, and how will the party bosses react?
Your move, Messrs Zuma and Mantashe. DM
Photo: Paul Mashatile (C) and Bheki Cele (not in the frame) in discussion at the ANC’s National Executive Committee (NEC) special meeting at St George Hotel in Irene on Monday, 19 May 2014. Picture: Werner Beukes/SAPA