Johannesburg - The Gauteng community safety department has urged taxi drivers and taxi associations to refrain from unruly behaviour and intimidation on the eve of their planned strike on Monday.
Spokesman Obed Sibasa said on Sunday: “Motor vehicles obstructing traffic or blocking roads will be subjected to stringent law enforcement by Gauteng traffic police and other law enforcement agencies.”
Last week the National Taxi Alliance said it would embark on a protest from Monday, 3 February; it was also planning to hand in a memorandum at the Department of Transport.
National Taxi Alliance spokesman Theo Malele said the government’s failure to issue operating licences to taxi drivers in a timely fashion rendered them prey to e-tolls.
But Sanral stressed that qualifying public transport was exempt from e-tolls on Gauteng e-roads.
Spokesman Vusi Mona said: “We are, however, aware that there are taxi operators who have not as yet received their operating licences from the relevant transport authorities. As a result, the system does not recognise their vehicles as exempt and they are being billed.
“As an interim measure, we have asked taxi associations to give us lists of their members’ vehicles, with all the necessary documentation, so that they can be loaded on to the system and can be identified as exempt vehicles.
“Those that have been billed already will receive a credit note and will not be held liable for the outstanding amounts.”
“This is the first phase of helping to resolve the problem.”
The interim measure had also been discussed with the SA National Taxi Council - which had agreed to furnish Sanral with a list of its members’ vehicles whose permits were still outstanding, he said.
But Malele said: “Sanral and the government claim we are exempt from paying e-tolls. Yet they know that almost 80 percent of taxis do not have operating licences.
“The government’s refusal to issue operating licences means it is rendering our operations illegal on the roads.”
“From Monday, we are going to take over the highways and drive past the e-tolls without paying.”
Mona repeated that Sanral was not responsible for the issuing of taxi operating licences but was prepared to help with an interim solution while the permits backlog was being resolved.
He added that there were about 46 000 exempt taxis already on the system.
‘WE’LL SEE YOU IN COURT”
Meanwhile the Tollgate Action Group, under the leadership of the Freedom Front Plus, has vowed to forge ahead with its fight against Gauteng’s e-toll system, promising to have the E-toll Act declared unconstitutional.
Spokesman Anton Alberts said: “This revolt cuts across party, racial and socio-economic lines. It’s historic in South Africa and the government is refusing to relent. The perfect storm is forming; it’s going to end badly for everybody.”
Despite being denied a previous urgent court application in December to have the e-toll system stopped, the group, consisting of the Freedom Front Plus, the Transvaal Agricultural Union and the National Taxpayers Union, announced it would renew its legal action as a non-urgent court application.
It said the Transport and Related Matters Act (commonly known as the E-tolls Act) was “fundamentally unconstitutional”, because its was registered as a Section 75 bill whereas it should have been a Section 76 bill.
Section 76 bills affect provinces and the National Council of Provinces must be involved in passing them.
Alberts said many constituencies and role players in the decision-making process had not been consulted because the bill had beenincorrectly tagged.
Sanral spokesman, Vusi Mona, said he was not aware of the possible legal action.
“We will not litigate in the public domain or through the media,” he said, “but whoever challenges us in a court of law, we will defend ourselves in the court.”
The Tollgate Action Group aims to include as part of its case the alleged erroneous announcement of the launch date of the e-toll system and the allegedly illegal criminalisation of non-payment.
Non-payment is an offence only applicable to toll gates where drivers have the option to pay at the gate.
Alberts said: “As motorists are not allowed to offer payment at toll gates, it should have been prescribed. This was not done.”
On December 3 the grpup brought an urgent court application to have the launch of the system stopped, but the judge ruled the matter not urgent “without considering the merit of our case”, he said.
Alberts said they hoped to have the matter placed on the court roll by April or May.
“The original application will be supplemented with arguments of more mistakes in the E-toll Act and the regulations.”
The group is also considering bringing a lawsuit against Sanral to manage its accounts in accordance with the Consumer Protection Act.
“The Freedom Front Plus will also assist individuals who want to lay complaints with the Consumer Commission, Alberts said. “The Tollgate Action Group will assist any person in court who is being prosecuted for non-payment.”
Alberts urged motorists not to purchase e-tags as it would make their legal battle more difficult.
“After we win and the act is declared unconstitutional, we will launch a class action lawsuit to get money back for the people who have already paid,” he said.
The Pretoria News asked people if they would support legal action against e-tolls:
Zamahlasela Gabela: “I believe that prior to the whole system coming into effect the public wasn’t asked or encouraged to comply - just bullied and threatened into something they didn’t understand in the first place.’
Pierre Botha: ”Damn right I will!”
Ndivuho Tshikovhi: “Yes, I would support it. It is daylight robbery. I have used the roads twice and am waiting to see what they do to me.”
Reinhard Höll: “Me too! As young South Africans trying to start out we have to use our own transport as public transport is non-existent, and now using our public roads is just as expensive. This with all the fuel hikes, interest rate hikes etcetera. It makes it almost impossible to start out in this country.”
Katlego Mkhwanazi: “Yes, I would support it because most motorists don’t want e-tolls but Sanral is just forcing it down our throats. That is not OK.”
Eleanor Cornelius: “I support them 1000 percent! I have been waiting for a larger body to fight on behalf of all the “small” people. Go for it!”
Johann Hattingh: ”They can count on me. Don’t tax me three times and expect me to say thank you when billions are lost to corruption.”
Opposition to Urban Tolling Alliance chairman Wayne Duvenage went even further, saying citizens should be brave enough to take on the government on e-tolling and other major issues.
“Stand up and be counted!”
“If you think something is fundamentally wrong, challenge those accountable to make it work,” he said. “Do not accept mediocrity.”
Duvenage said the battle against e-tolling was not lost; research had shown a battle was never lost.
“It is not up to the alliance,” he said. “There are churches, labour, civil society, the transport sector and politicians involved in the passive resistance against e-tolling. Everybody must fight.
“Millions have never heard of the alliance, but are not complying with e-tolling. Some are even prepared to be prosecuted. For them, we have enough experience and knowledge to assist them with the legal process.”
The alliance chairman is not an accidental hero; he knows all about defiance campaigns.
While at university in KwaZulu-Natal, he was in a student group that campaigned against the apartheid government.
Born in Zimbabwe, Duvenage moved to South Africa as a five-year-old with his parents. He has worked in the tourism and transport sectors most of his life. He left his last “day job”, as a senior executive at Avis, to champion the fight against e-tolling. He leads a team of 10 at the alliance, three of them permanent staffers; the organisation survives on donations.
Duvenage is not a politician and politics does not interest him.
He described himself as an ordinary citizen concerned about the unwillingness of the government to help ordinary people. It was in that space that you found uprising, he warned.
“There’s too much tax wastage already.”
Duvenage does not have an e-tag and does not pay, as he does not believe e-tolling is the correct way to fund highway upgrades - and he’s prepared to be arrested and prosecuted.
Despite numerous failed e-tolling court challenges, the alliance leader has remained defiant because he says e-tolling is doomed to failure.
He is still baffled by how no court was prepared to hear the merits of the case, choosing to dismiss the matter on a technicality.
“With the user-pay principle, you cannot have some people paying and the majority not complying,” he said. ”For e-tolling to be successful, at least 85 percent of users have to comply.”
The government should hold a referendum on e-tolling and other big issues that affected the people, he said.
“But there is a reluctance because the government knows the answer is going to be no.”
“A democratic government has to engage citizens on major decisions. But here we are, 20 years into democracy, and we’ve never had a referendum.
“In Stockholm when faced with an e-tolling decision, there was a referendum. The answer was in favour of e-tolls and the system worked for them. However, it failed in Singapore, Taipei, Portugal and other countries.
“In countries where e-tolling flopped, the government had no buy-in from the public.
“E-tolling works when it is transparent and the government engages the people, plus the money collected goes towards enhancing public transport.
“The R20 billion borrowed for the highway improvement project could have been used on public transport - to get the poor mobile and the rich to use public transport.”
Duvenage said the e-tolling saga could have taken a different tone if big business had the courage to challenge the government - but it it feared losing out on tenders.
“There’s a Northern Cape town where residents interdicted their municipality for not doing its job. Today everything is working well there. We need more of that. People are too scared of the government.”