Opinionista Wayne Duvenage 11 June 2013

OUTA marches on

The Opposition to Urban Tolling Alliance (OUTA) has announced that last week’s fundraising appeal yielded a massive success. By Monday 10 June, some five days after the call for help, over R1.35 million was raised from the public, plus a further R1 million contribution on Friday from the DA, which ensured that OUTA would be able to take society’s winnable case to the Supreme Court in September.

There is no doubt that the members of OUTA were surprised and full of gratitude at the extent of support they received from South Africans over such a short period. It had taken OUTA a year to raise R8,4 million (R6,7 mil of which came from 220 businesses). So to raise almost R1,3 million from society in less than a week (roughly 40% from business and 60% from citizens) was a moving sign of support. Donations ranged from R50 to a number of business contributions in the tens of thousands, and one as high as R100,000. This result has also put OUTA into a much healthier situation to settle some of its previous R3 million outstanding debt. But more healthy is the surge and push that OUTA has felt from the public to go forth with the knowledge that the country’s citizens and many businesses are right behind them, as they achieve the largest public funded legal challenge against the government since our new democracy – with almost R10,5 million raised in the past year.

As OUTA prepares its heads of argument for the Supreme Court battle at the end of September, it has tested its challenge through other legal minds and is of sound opinion that its case is extremely strong. This climate does not bode well for SANRAL, as they plan to launch e-tolls sometime in July, some two months prior to the court challenge. Should SANRAL lose the appeal in September, it may very well have to halt its e-toll plans and refund all its customers, unless of course they appeal to the Constitutional Court, where they could very well lose again. Contrary to Sanral’s inferences that the Constitutional Court has already ruled on the matter by setting aside the interdict in September 2012, this is by no means the probable outcome if the review gets back to the highest court in the land, as the case will have numerous differences and input brought into the full arguments through the Supreme Court process.

However, let’s for one moment set aside the possible outcomes of the court process and consider the real issue at stake for the e-toll brigade, that being the outright rejection thereof by a significant and broad spectrum of society. While they fail to give credence to this problem, the authorities remain steadfast in ostrich pose, head in the sand, as they soldier on in the belief that it is only the DA, COSATU, OUTA (which represents five sizable business associations) who are opposed to e-tolls. They simply ignore the many other entities that have rejected e-tolls during the (after the fact) 2011 GFIP Steering Committee engagement sessions, including: SA Local Government Association, The Johannesburg Chamber of Commerce & Industry, AfriForum, Business Unity SA and the Automobile Association, to name but a few. Since then, a growing number of additional entities have joined the crescendo to date, from virtually every political party (barring the ANC, who voted alone in favour of e-tolls in Parliament), through to the Black Management Forum, The Catholic Church and other religious bodies, SASBO and other business associations.

Add to this the roasting government received during the public engagement sessions held in November 2012, along with the submissions received to the tariffs and exemption notices. Their attitude nonetheless has been to assume that because only a thousand or so people came to lambast them at the engagement sessions and only 11,000 written submissions were received, this implies that the rest of society must therefore be in favour of e-tolls. Little do they want to test the waters by way of a referendum, or the commissioning of a scientific research or poll on the matter.

When one contemplates all the above developments and adds the almost complete stay-away from the call to purchase e-tags, despite a multi-million rand advertising campaign, one wonders what more needs to be done to have them think that maybe, just maybe, something is seriously wrong with their plan.

There are only two routes forward from here on. The first is the brave and courageous route – the high road (in the Sunter scenario speak). One which requires strong leadership to admit it may have selected the wrong path. One that will require serious listening to input and feedback from a broader society and one that may send them back to the drawing board in search of the best solution for and with their citizens. The second route – the low road – is to simply soldier on and force the issue, no matter how unpopular or unworkable the situation may be, in the hope that it all turns out more or less okay. This ‘hopeful route’ expects that enough citizens may adopt the role of becoming subjects and will simply fall grudgingly into line, at least for a while, as the authorities contemplate how to enforce, how to prosecute and how to meet the revenue targets and compliance levels they once only dreamt of.

The danger of the second option is that it could very well get messy. It may just spark the resistance that no government wants to contemplate. With a month or so to go before the gantries are turned on, the ball, President Zuma, is in your court. DM

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