Johannesburg – Trying to coerce and bully motorists into paying for e-tolls on Gauteng’s freeways was a futile exercise that would only serve to alienate government from the masses, Cosatu warned on Wednesday.
The labour federation, which is in alliance with the ruling ANC, said the latest admission by Gauteng premier David Makhura that e-tolls were a mistake should send a clear message to both the South African National Roads Agency Limited and the national government that “it is time to give up and scrap them altogether”.
During his State of the Province Address in Randfontein on Monday, Makhura said all efforts by his administration to solve the contentious e-tolls project had failed and referred the matter to national government for a solution.
The e-tolls issue has been used a political football with the EFF threatening to physically remove the gantries, and the DA put up billboards alongside Johannesburg’s major freeways criticising them. The ANC, on the other hand, has admitted that the e-tolls had cost it votes during the 2016 municipal elections where the ANC lost control of the metros of Johannesburg and Tshwane to a coalition of opposition parties led by the DA. Cosatu has also persistently held protests over the e-tolls, calling on government to scrap them.
On Wednesday Cosatu spokesman Sizwe Pamla said Gauteng residents universally rejected the “blackmailing language” of National Treasury that if government did not proceed with the project “difficult trade-offs will need to be confronted to avoid a deterioration in the national road network”.
He said it was about time the Treasury and Sanral realised that “if you visit upon people things they cannot bear, it will all end in tears. Last year’s local government election results bears testimony to this, because the people sent a very loud and clear message that they do not want these e-tolls”.
“What South Africa needs," he said, "is an integrated, reliable, affordable and safe public transport system because the current fragmented system is not working. Government needs to fix the Metrorail infrastructural backlogs and challenges which cause train delays. This has cost workers their jobs and negatively affected the economy.
"We want to see the expansion of the rail infrastructure so that all citizens can gain better access to the services. In addition to this, the transport infrastructure in rural areas needs to be expanded and improved,” he concluded.
However, National Freedom Party spokesman Sabelo Sigudu accused Cosatu of “cheap politicking”, saying its investment arm Kopano ke Matla benefited from a tender awarded to set up the controversial e-tolling system.
“If Cosatu is indeed serious about denouncing e-tolls in Gauteng, let it start by declaring and reversing all its financial benefits it accumulated in the construction of e-tolls first then lead a national march to remove e-tolls physically from all Gauteng roads,” he said.