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From outside, the noise of a protest against the e-tolls could be heard as the eight Constitutional Court judges, led by Chief Justice Mogoeng Mogoeng, took their seats in the courtroom.
It’s a legal battle that, since it started in the Pretoria High Court in March, is probably costing as much as R30 million.
Dozens of lawyers gathered in the Concourt on Wednesday to argue the future of the controversial Gauteng e-tolls.
At least 13 advocates - half of them senior counsel - are appearing for the parties, along with their various instructing attorneys.
South African National Roads Agency Limited CEO Nazir Alli took a front seat in the public gallery.
“No comment,” he said.
Across the courtroom sat a group from Sanral’s opponents, the Opposition to Urban Tolling Alliance.
Alliance chairman Wayne Duvenage expressed cautious optimism.
“We’re feeling good, but one never wants to sound overconfident,” he said. “This is a very important case for democracy.”
The main players are Sanral and the national treasury on the government’s side, along with the ministries of transport and of water and environmental affairs. These parties brought the application for leave to appeal against the Pretoria High Court’s interim interdict in April that suspended e-tolling pending a review of the tolling process. It is due in November.
Opposing the appeal application are five parties uniting behind the alliance.
The Concourt heard both the application for leave to appeal and the appeal itself.
Outside the court, about 50 DA supporters sang and waved “hoot for a toll free GP” signs.
DA provincial leader Jack Bloom said: “There were meant to be more supporters from Soweto, but the taxis got stuck on the highway because of an accident.”
Bloom said the e-toll case was an “offence of the constitution”.
Costs are high.
Bloom said the DA estimated the total cost of the court proceedings from the beginning to be in excess of R30 million, with R20 million paid for by taxpayers for the government’s legal fees.
The alliance, which is fielding a team of four advocates, estimates its own costs at more than R10 million so far, and was still fundraising for its costs.
Duvenhage said: “We’re just over half way; we’re at R5.5 million at the moment.”
Paul Pauwen, also from the alliance, emphasised the case’s significance and the need to challenge the government over it.
“Basically the government are saying they can do anything they want, and if you don’t like it, you can vote them out next time,” said Pauwen.
Some teams have already fallen by the wayside.
Afriforum and the DA lost their applications to join the case as friends of the court, and so did the Road Freight Association, whose application to intervene in the case was heard and dismissed on Wednesday.
Judgment has been reserved.