Cars drive past an e-toll gantry. Picture: Bongiwe Mchunu/African News Agency (ANA) Archives
When the people of Gauteng started seeing colourful lights along their freeways about a decade ago, some thought they were Christmas decorations, but they were in fact e-toll gantries designed to pick their pockets as they drove by.

They soon woke up and started toyi-toying, but it was too late.

Finance Minister Tito Mboweni’s tough talk on this issue this week is a timely reminder of the commitment South Africa has to bond markets and the global community to “render to Caesar what belongs to Caesar” and generally handle our finances properly.

The ratings agencies are watching us. If we’re not careful they’ll soon be here to take their pound of flesh and drop us down the bottomless ratings downgrade abyss.

Investors buy our bonds hoping they’d get returns.

That the e-tolls are flawed is none of their business.

So, unlike Deputy President David Mabuza, we should all take Mboweni seriously, especially this time as he was speaking live at a press conference instead of tweeting what his critics in the ANC alliance describe as his “free agent” views.

South Africa has many deep and varied economic crises that will take time to overcome. But dealing with the e-tolls and making up our minds about the user-pay policy - as hard a pill to swallows as it is - shouldn’t take long.

Maybe after the elections this age-old mess will be sorted out once and for all. We can’t be free agents in a global economy with rules.

** Mazwi Xaba is the editor of the Independent On Saturday