Motoring / Motoring News

Howard Dembovsky
3 minute read
3 Dec 2014
4:54 pm

Looking back at e-tolling

Howard Dembovsky

Today marks the anniversary of the implementation of e-tolls in Gauteng. The first anniversary, mind you – not its birthday, because it was somewhat stillborn and failed to materialise into the “masterpiece” and “better” or “only” way to go that everyone – including the highest court in the land – was told it would be.

Howard Dembovsky, National Chairman of the non-profit Justice Project South Africa. Picture: Supplied

Amid the repeated threats of dire and life-altering/ending consequences levelled at motorists for not complying with these unjust laws enacted to compel compliance, ordinary folk got angry, dug in their heels and didn’t run off to register with Sanral. They then went further and refused to pay. In essence, the practice of hurling rocks and burning tyres was replaced with tightly zipped wallets and the occasional drive around the GFIP by groups of defiant, fed-up and cash-strapped citizens.

Banners slung over bridges on the freeway saying “hoot against e-tolls” produced a daily tumultuous, trumpeting symphony.

Compliance is and remains very low and, essentially, very few outside of the realms of big business and government departments have registered with and, more importantly, are paying. The “user-pays principle” is in effect the “some-users-pay principle” and the uncollected revenues are building by the day, just as predicted and warned by the Opposition to Urban Tolling Alliance (Outa), Justice Project SA (JPSA) and others.

It’s a crying shame the warnings and attempts to halt the e-tolls egg from being scrambled resulted in little more than the enrichment of lawyers and a materialisation of most, if not all of the warnings presented. It’s a fact courts are interested in what the law says and, unfortunately, it’s also a fact the law and the practical implications thereof can sometimes be worlds apart.

It’s also a shame that what looks good on paper and what happens in reality doesn’t always equate to the same thing. The policy of e-tolling, just like Marxism, looks great on paper but fails to take the human factor into account. Funnily enough, both share a common “enemy”, which they like to call “bourgeois society” and it would appear the pro e-tolling lobby’s belief that anti e-toll sentiment was merely an attempt to protect privilege has backfired, because e-tolling affects everyone with a motor vehicle and everyone who buys products delivered via highways. That’s everyone, not just the rich.

And then came the e-tolls review panel and a ray of hope suddenly peered through the cracks in the system – though not without a concerted attempt by the naysayers to discredit it and label it a sham. Among the most vocal about the illegitimacy of the panel were Sanral, the minister of transport and the ruling party.

Despite that, Premier David Makhura and the panel stood their ground and even the critics – bar none – ended up making submissions – with Sanral taking up the lion’s share of the time afforded by the panel to individuals and organisations to present their case.

Now that the panel has delivered on its mandate to provide the premier with its report and recommendations by 30 November, the ball is firmly in premier and Gauteng provincial government’s court to do something constructive with it. But this has also not come without criticism and people can’t wait to get their hands on the report. Some have launched renewed criticism – labelling Makhura’s decision to study and discuss the report with his provincial government before releasing it publicly “secrecy” and lending credence to the view the entire process was perhaps a self-serving sham.

It’s hard to blame people for distrusting anything about e-tolling, given the history of the dictatorial railroading that birthed it and the repeated misinformation – otherwise known as lies – from Sanral.

But one thing is certain: e-tolling has failed to raise the money to repay the scheme’s investors and, ultimately, no matter what the political ramifications of this will be, a realistic financial solution to the problem has to be forthcoming. Whether that solution results in an increase or decrease in votes for one or the other political party will depend entirely on what political solution is – or is not – reached.