eTag-of-war taking its tollComment on this story
Your call for motorists not to buy e-tags is sabotage and emotional blackmail. I have chosen to address this letter to you or the Opposition to Urban Tolling Alliance (Outa) mainly because I do not know whether there is any other person at alliance or if it is just you, but that is okay, I know many one-man organisations.
I write to you from my parents’ home in Matangari here in Venda, Limpopo, where I saw you on television on the day you lost the case in the Pretoria High Court: very emotional, nearly in tears and calling on motorists not to buy e-tags and for them to do anything to make sure the revenue collection system (e-tags) for the upgraded Gauteng highways is compromised.
I have sympathy that you lost the case, and that Judge Louis Vorster also said you must pay the legal costs of the SA National Road Agency Limited (Sanral) and others must be very painful to you or Outa. But we are made to believe judges are always right, and I believe you also share the same sentiments.
I must put it on record that I have no problem with your organisation and what it seeks to achieve. Our constitution protects all your activities. My biggest problem is with what you said after you lost the case at the high court.
Your call for Gauteng motorists not to buy e-tags can be best described as sabotage of the government and our economy. It is irresponsible. My friends tried to convince me that I must give you a break; they said you had just lost a big case.
This might explain why you were almost in tears in court, but this cannot be justification for any leader of an organisation that claims to represent law-abiding and responsible citizens and companies to call for the public to sabotage a government programme when you are not successful in court. I wonder if your members agree with you; I have never heard any of them endorsing your call.
You know exactly what it means – already the National Treasury had to pay over R5 billion to cover the costs for Sanral. This money could have gone to building schools, hospitals, houses, and buying medicines for the poor.
But it is subsidising Gauteng motorists who can afford to pay for the use of the road as many of them use it for commercial purposes. Why should the poor subsidise private companies and individuals like me who can afford to buy cars?
Mr Duvenage, I and many South Africans disagree not only with your call for sabotaging a government programme, but also with your approach to decisions of the courts, that they must be respected only when they favour you, that they must be ignored if they do not favour you.
That is not leadership.
I also disagree that many of your members who are international companies in freight, tourism and rental support e-tolls and use of e-tags in other countries. Why the double standard? Why is it that those who seek to protect their profits are leading the attack on our government’s programme, when they support the same projects and even spend money to promote and market them in other countries?
Like I said in the beginning, I have no problem with what you stand for, and I hope you will also have no problem with what I stand for, which is respect for law and our government and working with the government to improve lives of the poor.
You went to court to argue two points: that Sanral did not consult enough; and that there is a better revenue collection model than e-tags. I am sure at first glance you thought you had a case – I thought so as well. But when I saw my brother’s old car, and realise that it has never been to Gauteng, let alone Polokwane for the past 10 years, I asked myself why he should be subjected to petrol tax to subsidise big rental companies, hotel owners and truck owners who make millions from using the road and pay themselves good bonuses?
I realised that it was wise for Sanral and the Gauteng government to introduce a system that allows for those who use the road to pay for it – it’s called the user pay principle. It is used on the N1, N2, N3 and N4 in South Africa, if you have used them.
You argued that my brother and many like him across the country who will never set foot in Gauteng must contribute through petrol tax, without due understanding for the consequences; the petrol price will rise, public transport costs will rise and food prices will rise not only in South Africa, but throughout the Southern African Development Community and across the continent. This, I am sure, is not what you wanted.
Your second argument, which, ironically, you believed is your strongest point, but was actually the weakest, is that Sanral did not consult enough.You argue that there wasn’t sufficient consultation, only a few public meetings. You argue that there should have been full-page adverts in all newspapers. You ignore that the only legal government newspaper is the Government Gazette, that the government is mandated to put all government notices to citizens in the Government Gazette.
I worked for the national Department of Transport from 2000 to 2004 and this project, the Gauteng Freeway Improvement Project, was already in discussions in meetings and in many official documents of the government.
So the judge said you have no case. Instead of accepting the court decision, you call on motorists not to buy e-tags. By extension, you are calling on motorists to ignore a court decision. You are mobilising citizens against a government programme, against a court decision. And Outa members support you in this?
I am a road user who travels between Joburg and Pretoria almost every day, and between Pretoria and Venda almost every month. For me to reach my parents’ home in Venda I pay about R150 at four toll gates.
No one is helping me. Why no call for petrol tax there? No court case from you? Why? If you want the Gauteng roads to be financed by petrol tax, why don’t you talk about the N1, N2, N3 and N4?
As I conclude, let me advise you that when you go to court you must know that courts might not rule in your favour, and when it happens you must be brave and move on.
It is not leadership to call for your members not to buy e-tags. It is not leadership for you to call for road users to sabotage a government programme. But it is leadership to see both sides of the argument and accept that we have lost the case and move on.
- Ndivhuwo Mabaya is a government official writing in his personal capacity.