Thabiso Thakali

Hilda and Johannes Maphoroma stretch their food budget every month, cutting corners and limiting some items on their grocery list to accommodate their ever-rising monthly fuel bill.

The Maphoromas, who live in Leondale Gardens, Ekurhuleni, travel in separate cars for more than 50km to and from work, dropping off their kids at school along the way.

But the harsh economic times in recent years with rising food, fuel and general living costs have seen the Maphoromas just survive – and this, they believe is by God’s grace.

“Almost every night when we eat dinner together we pray,” Hilda says. “And what we say is: ‘Lord, lead us where you want us to be. Maybe you don’t want us to be rich. Maybe you just want us to get by, like we are now.’ It amazes me how we get by every day.”

A crushing burden of debt from credit cards, home loan, groceries and fuel costs means their expenditure is almost R2 000 in excess of their combined incomes.

On her way to work in Norwood daily, Hilda – a cashier at Norwood Spar – drives through four gantries on the new Gauteng e-toll highways.

Since the announcement that from April 30 all Gauteng e-toll highway users will be paying 30c a kilometre with e-tags, Hilda has been tossing and turning at night.

She fears her family, already on the brink of ruin, not because they are poor but because they are average – could be worse off.

“My husband works in Midrand. We both have no option but to drive through the tolled roads daily to work. Our children attend school in Auckland Park,” she says. “My monthly fuel bill is more than R1 000 and my husband’s bill is almost double that. I don’t know how we would be able to add another R550 cost each for tolling on our already depleted budget.”

Hilda rarely takes her children shopping for groceries because they want expensive things – such as cheese. The Maphoromas live meagrely on Johannes’s R9 000 salary a month and Hilda’s R3 000 but they refuse to measure happiness in material ways.

However, when Hilda heard that a group of big businesses planned to lodge a bid to stop the e-tolling project she volunteered to submit her own affidavit in support.

“We want the best education for our children which is why we have stretched ourselves to allow them to attend school so far away from home,” she says.

“Travelling with them to school every morning is much cheaper than all of us taking a bus and paying a monthly fare, so we don’t have a choice but to use my car.”

Hilda pays the household bills every month and keeps piles of receipts and invoices each with a due date highlighted. From the end of the month she may have to add e-tolling fines to her bills.

“I’m worried because I don’t know what will happen because we haven’t bought the e-tags,” she adds. “We simply cannot afford to pay for these tolls. That money would have to be cut straight out of our food budget which already looks like nothing because we prioritise what the family needs mostly – like mealie-meal.”

She says e-tolls will drive her family deeper into debt.

And if a show of hands against the e-tolls was to be considered a measure that could stop the project, Hilda would probably raise both of hers.

But for now Hilda is pinning her hopes on the court to rule in favour of the Opposition to Urban Tolling Alliance, which she supported with her affidavit, by granting relief to stop the e-tolling.