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E-Tolls: An ill diagnosed national scourge in conflict with local voter pain


Wayne Duvenage is a businessman and entrepreneur turned civil activist. Following former positions as CEO of AVIS and President of SA Vehicle Renting and Leasing Association, Duvenage has headed the Organisation Undoing Tax Abuse since its inception in 2012.

Just as a seemingly small bodily ailment becomes infected and triggers the whole body into spasm and possible meltdown, the Gauteng e-toll saga is a classic case of what happens when a national political imperative operates in conflict with the force of localised pain which, when left unattended, demands more attention than initially required to trigger the necessary healing.

Five years ago, in February 2011, the ANC in Gauteng issued a statement saying:

The current toll road plan as it stands at the moment will have devastating consequences for the people of Gauteng and the economy… A task team will be established to look at a comprehensive public transport strategy. The task team will also conduct an impact study of the tolling system.”

They were not wrong with their early prognosis, but alas, the e-toll infection was poorly diagnosed as a mild irritant by the NEC surgeons who shrugged it off as insignificant and too localised to impact on the bigger ANC picture.

The initial price some three years later was a resounding 11% decline in the ANC electoral support at the 2104 National and Provincial elections, the party’s largest provincial decline (from 64.8% to 53.6%) in its history.

Alas, the NEC surgeons’ opinion remained insolent, again slapping the e-toll impact as nothing more that a painful jolt to be washed away with a mild dose of denialist disinfectant. They missed a fine opportunity to acknowledge and address the anger of the Gauteng motoring public, and instead they looked away and hoped that by the time the 2016 local elections arrived, the eruption would have subsided.

Two months into his new reign at the Gauteng Legislature, David Makhura realised the public’s e-toll discomfort required more attention. Another talk shop was hatched in Mid 2014 to “listen to the people”, and the E-Toll Impact Assessment Panel was launched to quell the rupturing e-toll tumour.

Despite numerous submissions and over 90% rejection of the e-toll scheme from every quarter, Makhura’s final e-toll report retained the status quo and the localised pain was left to fester for another two years.

This time around, however, the manifestation had worse consequences and the Tshwane limb was amputated from the ANC’s provincial power base, with the Ekurhuleni and Johannesburg appendages in danger of falling off, too.

What made matters worse for the ANC was that by the time the 2016 elections came around, the e-toll scheme had already failed. This was evident by the scheme’s inability to raise even 1% of the outstanding R5.9-billion e-toll debt by May 2016, despite threats of summonses and the placebo offer of a 60% discount dispensation.

The ANC’s NEC appeared to be distracted by their defence of mounting leadership issues, and failed to evaluate how the e-toll wart-like tumour had spread deeper into their Gauteng urban support base, exacerbated by other viruses of Nkandlatitis, Guptanitis and StateCapturensis. They paid the price on 3 August 2016.

This time around, the serial e-toll denialist Gwede Mantashe acknowledged that e-tolls were a factor for the party in 2016, saying, “The ANC will engage middle-class South Africans in Gauteng regarding e-tolls, as this has cost the party in the local government elections.”

The sad reality is that society has a lesser need for his or the ANC’s help to rid the people of the septic scourge from their system. The motoring public in Gauteng have largely done so themselves through self-medication by way of a healthy dose of civil disobedience, successfully eliminating about 75% of the oxygen flow to the ugly e-toll blight. All that remains is for the final 25% (mainly fearful corporate entities) to halt the weak supply of oxygen to the affliction, and the gantries will become remnants of what happens when a government fails to heed the will of the people.

This month, OUTA’s legal team, led by the highly respected Senior Counsel of Gilbert Marcus, is finalising preparations against Sanral’s lawyers at Werksmans, in a defensive challenge of the public’s rights to ignore the ill-conceived e-toll scheme in court. Government’s decision to issue summonses to 6,000 members of the public sends a serious and contemptuous message to the people from the state. With over two-million defiant motorists having stood their ground, this matter is expected to become one South Africa’s most costly and protracted legal affairs, with millions of taxpayers rands already spent, and millions more to be wasted on a most unnecessary legal showdown.

OUTA will not back down on this issue.

If Mr Mantashe is indeed serious about the state’s need to engage with the people of Gauteng on e-tolls, he may contemplate a meaningful engagement session with the civil action entity that has conducted significant research on the matter. A short presentation from OUTA will provide clarity as to why the scheme has (and always would) fail and how an alternative remedy would have already paid off the capital costs of the e-toll bonds. Contrary to general belief, he may also discover a civil action movement that is not anti-government, nor anti-taxation. Instead, he may discover and approve of this patriotic organisation’s intent on fighting for good governance and the removal of corruption.

It’s never too late to correct a poor decision and with the ball planted squarely in the ANC’s court, the most painless and gainful decision will be to completely turn off the e-toll mechanism.

The only pain envisaged will be that encountered by a few connected companies who drink from the very weak (but ever-so-sweet) revenue stream still trickling into the system. In addition, the five-year tender period of the contract with ETC is close to completion and renewal of this will be disastrous. True, there will be the grimace of putrid humble pie that will have to be swallowed, but that will pass quickly under the guise of leadership’s intensified listening and engagement skills.

There is an apt saying by civil rights activist Tyree Scott: “You can’t just leave those who created the problem in charge of the solution.” With the e-toll architect’s retirement date having passed, there’s no time like now to haul in a new broom and to send Mr Nazir Alli on his way. The longer the e-toll debacle lingers, the more entrenched it becomes in the voters’ minds when choosing their Gauteng Provincial Government in 2019, a mere three years away. DM


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