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The tolling of Gauteng roads, due to be implemented from next Monday if the authorities get their way, might turn out to be one of the most damaging follies by the ANC government.
Try as it might to communicate the message the tolls are a necessary evil, the government and the agency responsible for the project, the SA National Roads Agency Ltd (Sanral) have not convinced.
Opposition to the tolls has been near universal: business, the unions led by Cosatu, and the public have all said an emphatic no.
Government concessions, which have included a treasury subsidy to cushion the effects of the tolls on motorists, an exemption for public transport and a discount for regular road users who buy e-tags, have all failed to divide the opposition.
Cosatu is planning a workers’ strike while various lobby groups are seeking interdicts to stop Sanral from collecting tolls. It’s the kind of opposition that would bring down a government in mature democracies, but this is SA where the majority of voters are a forgiving lot even when they are being fleeced.
How did it come to this?
Much like some of the the unnecessary soccer stadiums built for the 2010 World Cup and are proving costly to maintain, not much thought seems to have been given to the financial implications of the tolls before the decision to press ahead with the road upgrade was made.
Sure, government spin doctors have claimed there was widespread consultation and public buy-in before work began but details on how and who was consulted are sketchy.
The effect of the decision on motorists and crucially, the economy of the country’s business hub are potentially crippling. That is not to say the road expansion was not necessary. Anyone who has experienced the traffic gridlock in Joburg or Pretoria would agree something had to be done to alleviate the suffocating traffic jams. But the best brains should have been given the task of producing a more sensible and affordable plan to fund the project.
It’s also curious that a foreign company was involved and stands to make huge profits from operating the tolls. Why? Surely SA, with its home-grown, world-class construction firms should have taken complete charge to minimise cost?
It’s too late but still one hopes the mandarins learn something from the messy affair. One lesson they should take to heart is that the public are not unquestioning cash cows there to pay for their costly, ill-thought schemes.
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What an awful story about the rape of a 17-year-old mentally challenged woman by a gang of criminals in a Joburg township.
What an indictment of our society that such a vile act can take place many times against a vulnerable fellow human being, and the police and the community in which she lived do little or nothing to help.
The elite in our country can talk all they like about SA’s world-class constitution, respect for human rights and democracy, but if society and our much-vaunted state institutions put in place to protect the weak among us fail them, the words have no meaning and we are in trouble.
The tragedy is that her ordeal is not an isolated case. Rape is rife, especially in informal settlements. The crime often goes unreported because experience has taught the victims that the chances of perpetrators paying for their evil deeds are minimal. We should hang our heads in shame.
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So the team we send to the London Olympics will be kitted out by a Chinese company. What a statement that makes about our ability to support our athletes. The sports officials who signed off on the deal say they had no choice but to embrace the Chinese because no local firm was prepared to sponsor our team. They should be asking themselves why that’s the case. It’s a disgrace