TRAFFIC was backed up about 10km and moved at a snail’s pace as Cosatu’s drive-slow hit Joburg’s highways yesterday.
Cosatu had called on its members and motorists to join the go-slow in opposition to the e-tolls, driving at under 20km/h along some of greater Joburg’s highways and freeways.
The go-slow got off to a slow start early in the day, when a small number of cars left Cosatu House in Braamfontein at 9am towards the M1 north, and the Mboro Church in Katlehong towards the N3 north.
However, some motorists joined in later, while others had no choice as traffic was blocked.
On both routes, the motorcades were restricted to the right-hand lanes of the highways, with an escort of police and metro vehicles bringing up the front, side and back of the line. Normal traffic was allowed to proceed normally in the left lane, apart from one or two stops by the demonstrators.
The Joburg motorcade eventually turned onto the N1 Western Bypass towards Roodepoort, and a trail of cars on the highway could be seen from Paulshof, past the Rivonia Road exit and toward the Buccleuch interchange, a distance of about 10km.
At the first e-toll near Paulshof, the motorcade stopped and Cosatu members gathered around the base of it to sing and hold up their signs of opposition.
While the crowd was singing, one man wearing a Cosatu T-shirt and beret slipped behind the other base of the gantry, off the side of the road and relieved himself. It is unclear whether this was symbolic or out of sheer desperation, as the man rushed back to the crowd when asked for comment.
“These gates are popping up everywhere, they are taking a lot of money from poor people,” Dibuseng Pakose, one of the motorists in the demonstration, said. She said she thought the protest would stop the e-tolls.
People hung out of car windows and held up signs that read “Demolish e-tolls, not people’s houses” and “Tolling in Gauteng highways must be scrapped”.
The Ekurhuleni route saw an hour-long stall early in the day as protesters had an extended pit-stop at the gantry just ahead of the N3-N17 split, blocking off every lane and defying police who repeatedly asked them to get moving again, pushing them back into their vehicles.
“This is daylight robbery, we can’t take it,” said Tshepo Nobunga, jogging alongside a lorryful of protesters crawling at 10km/h and blaring music from a loudspeaker. “We’re going to fight this thing.”
Fewer than 40 vehicles were taking part in the Ekurhuleni leg, outnumbered by the horde of cop cars, motorbikes and two Nyalas – one on either end of the caravan.
After the allotted five hours passed, protesters resisted police attempts to make them move any faster.
“These are our most enthusiastic members,” Nobunga said. “If they say they’ll go slow, they’ll go sloooow.”
Maureen van der Merwe and Melanie Kotze had been travelling back to Pretoria from a flower show when they found themselves part of the traffic train.
Kotze promptly slowed down to Cosatu speed as Van der Merwe grabbed an anti-tolling poster and pasted it to the vehicle.
“We decided to join in because we feel this protest is right,” Van der Merwe said, perched on the open window with her fist raised in the air. “If we want to fight against e-tolls, then we also need to start taking part.”
Passing motorists waved or gave the thumbs-up to the motorcade, while trucks let out thunderous, continuous hoots as they passed the length of the convoy.
Lydia Mbambisa raised her fist in the air and shook it, saying “Yes, yes” as the motorcade passed underneath her on a bridge over the N1 Western bypass near the William Nicol Drive exit.
“I’m not a motorist but here I am,” Mbambisa, a pensioner, said. “They’re taking too much from us… enough is enough.”
“Your child is going to fear to visit you because he is going to pay a toll,” Mbambisa said when asked what effect the e-tolls would have on a non-motorist.
Cosatu’s leadership felt the drive-slow was a success.
“The objective is to keep the momentum and for this issue to remain in the public domain,” Cosatu provincial secretary Dumisani Dakile said. – Additional reporting by Mpiletso Motumi