Hijackers’ jaunt costs car owner

Johannesburg -

An armed gang of hijackers robbed her of her car at gunpoint five years ago. Now a 78-year-old pensioner is at her wits end after receiving two e-toll bills for their jaunts on Gauteng’s highway.

File photo: Ihsaan Haffejee. Credit: Independent Newspapers

An exasperated Val Woodward, of Midrand, is refusing to pay SA National Roads Agency (Sanral) because to do so would be to “admit liability”.

The criminals had hijacked Woodward in her Toyota Tazz as she was driving to church. She reported the crime to the police, but they never recovered the stolen vehicle. She then deregistered it.

In February, she received an initial e-toll bill of R19 from Sanral. She was flummoxed. “When I studied the photos they sent with the account, I saw it was a Mercedes Benz with my Tazz’s licence plate. And Sanral had my ID number attached to that number plate.”

Sanral has responded to the problem of cloned and false licence plate numbers by telling motorists there is recourse through an administrative process offered by its e-toll customer services division.

When Woodward queried the bill, the agency advised her to register a formal objection and send a sworn affidavit that the vehicle did not belong to her. She did.

“That very evening, I received an SMS from Sanral that my representation was rejected and that I must pay the bill, or face the consequences. It’s really most exasperating. I’ve had another bill from them since, but I’ve ignored it.

“I can’t do anything more. It’s over to them now; it’s their problem. It’s not my car. It’s only a small amount, but if I pay, that’s admitting liability. And I won’t do that. I never even drive on the highway… A friend suggested I should hand myself over for arrest.”

Sanral’s Vusi Mona was not available to comment. This week, Woodward became so frustrated she contacted the Opposition to Urban Tolling Alliance (Outa) to find out what the consequences would be of her unpaid bills.

John Clarke, spokesman for Outa, told her the penalties would balloon. “If she ignores the invoice a debt collector will come knocking. Then, a sheriff of the court will serve her with a summons to appear in court to face criminal charges.

“Would a 78-year-old doing time in prison for refusing to pay the e-toll bill of a violent gangster who stole her car maybe help bring government to its senses?” wondered Clarke, who said Outa had received countless e-mails from Gauteng residents with similar stories, also “eager to present themselves for arrest”.

Woodward is exasperated. “I’m handing the matter over to Sanral. They must decide what to do next. I haven’t got any more resources. I have so many other things I’m busy with - I don’t have time for this hassle in my life.”

At Outa’s annual general meeting this week, its chairman Wayne Duvenage assured its members that the “fight and resolve” against e-tolling remained as strong as ever within the anti-toll outfit “and seemingly throughout all ranks of society”, which had already demonstrated a mass rebellion against e-tolling.