Bikers Against Tolls: Making a noise
By: Dave Abrahams
“Cape Town’s bikers have kept quiet too long!”
This may sound strange, coming as it does from one of South Africa’s noisiest and most in-your-face (not to say intimidating) minorities, but Bikers Against Tolls spokesman Richard Green has a point. Motorcyclists are not, by and large, political animals, preferring to think of themselves as ‘outside the system’ – until you touch them on their roads.
The immense public backlash against the imposition of e-tolling in Gauteng and the South African Roads Agency Limited’s stated intention of planting a toll-gate on every major route into and out of the Cape Metropole has turned BAT from a fringe group with an eye-catching logo, parading up and down the roads that Sanral wants to toll, into a political force that speaks directly to the authorities.
On Sunday morning an estimated 600 motorcycles, escorted by Metro police vehicles and accompanied by dozens of ‘fellow travellers’ in cars and bakkies, roared into the centre of Cape Town and, for a brief, gaudy hour, completely took over the two blocks of Wale Street outside the Western Cape Provincial Government building.
As the deafening sound of the motorcycle engines died away, their riders gathered in the street at the entrance to the building, waving BAT flags and holding up placards advising Sanral exactly what to do with its e-tags.
Green said there was a place for tolling where specific roads needed special care – the Huguenot Tunnel and Chapmans Peak being local examples – but that the Cape’s bikers refused to pay again to ride on existing roads which had already been paid for by their taxes and the ubiquitous fuel levy.
“We can’t go to a garage and say ‘Fill her up but don’t add the fuel levy’,” he said, “but we will not be charged yet again for riding on those same roads.”
Then, for the first time, BAT Western Cape convenor Amanda Bruwer handed over a memorandum to Western Cape transport MEC Donald Grant, stating in detail its objections to the tolling of existing roads – and challenged him on how long it would take him to respond.
Grant replied that it usually took about 10 days, but undertook to attempt a swifter response on this issue. He implored the protesters to pay more attention to safety on the roads, pointing out that the South African economy simply could not sustain the R21 billion annual cost of road deaths and injuries.
He said he looked forward to working with BAT to prevent further tolling of roads in the province – prompting a wry response from a leather-clad wit in the crowd that this must be the first-ever political protest in support of local government.
Green and Bruwer were elated by the by unexpectedly large turnout, but Green said afterwards this was just the beginning, with plans already in place to present their demands – and their challenge – to Cape Town’s mayor, the premier of the Western Cape and, if necessary, the national minister of transport, “moving up the ladder until people start to take us seriously”.