Churches take a stand against e-tolls

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Independent Newspapers

United front: From left: Rev Mukondi Ramulondi, Rev Moss Ntlaha, Bishop Abel Gabuza, Fr Mike Deeb, Mike Roussos and Bishop Paul Verryn at a press conference opposing e-tolling yesterday. Picture: Sharon Seretlo

Several church groups have urged their members to take a stand against e-tolls.

In a strongly worded statement – its tone reminiscent of the fight against apartheid – several Christian churches yesterday called on motorists not to buy e-tags in a passive-resistance exercise.

“We declare our intention to refuse to buy e-tags and refuse to pay this unjust e-toll,” they said.

The joint statement involves, among others, the Catholic, Methodist, Presbyterian and Uniting Reform churches, together representing thousands of motorists.

Their leaders slammed the government for refusing to listen to the people and the effect tolling would have on their lives.

“We will be accused, as churches, of being unpatriotic and disloyal to the government for calling for this resistance, but we cannot blindly follow what the government tells us is right for our people. We struggled through and fought against apartheid, and we will fight this too.

“The 1955 Freedom Charter calls for the people to govern, but our government is not listening. Sometimes loyalty can be misguided – the government is behaving as though its word is gospel and is expecting blind loyalty with no questioning, which is a form of idolatry.

“The role of the church is to raise consciousness about what is unfair. Elections are about to happen and people have to become aware that they have the power to make the government listen to them,” said the statement, read by Bishop Abel Gabuza, chairman of the SA Catholic Bishops Conference.

The leaders said the churches had held meetings with the government and “we believed they would listen, but they did not and have imposed the tolls on us”.

“While it is our duty to encourage obedience to the law, this is dependent on the law being just and reasonable, and this e-tolling law fails the test…

“We did not take this decision lightly. People are now looking to us for answers, and our answer is that they should not buy e-tags.”

The leaders called for peaceful and non-violent protest against the e-tolls.

“It is not a legal requirement to buy one. The authorities may try to intimidate people by charging the much higher fees for the use of public roads if they don’t register. And if this happens, this must be exposed as coercion and intimidation.”

The months to come would be difficult, but it was important that leaders continued to demand that the government be accountable and that consultation wasn’t negotiable when it came to such important decisions, they said.

Mike Roussos, a Catholic lay leader, said: “We are not opposed to paying for the construction of roads, but this contract does not sound right. The reasons given to us for not increasing the fuel levy are not truthful – the government says it cannot do this because only Gauteng will benefit.

“Yet the cost of the Gautrain, which operates only in this province, came from national government, as did money for various stadiums constructed for the World Cup, which benefited only certain provinces.” -The Star


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