File - in this photo taken Friday, May 4, 2012, vehicles pass beneath a gantry which uses sophisticated electronic equipment to impose toll charges onto the vehicle owners as they pass along freeways. After years of delay, protests and legal action, a tolling system finally came into force Tuesday Dec. 3, 2013 on a large part of the freeway network of South Africa's richest province, Gauteng, amid threats by opponents to continue the fight against the tolls which they warn could cost the ruling African National Congress votes in next year's elections. (AP Photo/Denis Farrell,file)

Johannesburg - Drivers refusing to pay for e-tolls could be jailed and slapped with penalties of R1000 for each gantry they drive through.

And this, said Justice Project SA’s Howard Dembovsky, would render South Africa a nation with millions of “artificial criminals”.

“Refusal to pay or the non-payment of a toll is in addition subject to a civil penalty of R1000 and may be increased each year. Essentially what is currently looming is a situation where a high volume of people will have to be prosecuted by the NPA on behalf of Sanral. At present 1.3 million people have not paid, meaning they all stand a chance of being prosecuted,” he said.

Addressing the Gauteng e-toll panel discussion on Monday morning, Dembovsky highlighted the dangers of Sanral’s prosecution of non-paying drivers, saying hundreds of thousands of people would be left with criminal records which would be maintained for at least 10 years.


“The net result of creating artificial criminals also has the knock-on effect of creating real criminals, some of whom may eventually turn to violent crimes such as robbery, when those individuals denied the opportunity to be employed may indeed be forced to turn to a life of crime in order to survive.”

He gave a case study of somebody called Mrs M, a registered e-tag user who did not understand the way in which e-tags worked. By 7 June Mrs M had managed to clock up R9324 worth of e-tolls. She now faces a R12 500 bill or prosecution.

But under the Sanral act she could be handed a R1000 civil fine for each of the 1188 gantries she has driven under, meaning Mrs M could be faced with R1 188 000 in civil penalties, and possible imprisonment.

“She cannot cough up. She will go to jail.”

Dembovsky said according to Sanral, 2.5 million motor vehicles used the Gauteng Freeway Improvement Project daily, but less than half had registered for e-tags. Latest figures showed 700 000 registered users were paying, while 500 000 were not.

Dembovsky said at present the project was R2 billion in the red.

In July, it was announced that the National Prosecuting Authority was preparing to commence prosecutions for the non-payment of e-tolls.

But transport minister Dipuo Peters asked Sanral not to begin prosecutions just yet.

“If e-tolling is not scrapped, then it is arguable that a significantly large quantum of people are going to have to be successfully prosecuted by the NPA on behalf of Sanral,” Dembovsky said.


He said this failed to take into account two factors: that there were people prepared to face jail time and that a significant proportion of people simply could not pay the e-tolls.

He quoted Sanral spokesman Vusi Mona saying that South Africa would be “reduced to a banana republic if authorities did not prosecute people who break the law”.

If you got a criminal record, you would not be able to get a job, Dembovsky pointed put.

Dembovsky said section 27 (5) of the Sanral act excluded Sanral from the credit act, and he quoted the act:

“Refusal to pay or the non-payment of toll is an offence punishable on conviction with imprisonment for a period not longer than six months or a fine, or with both.”

He said this was a looming socio-economic disaster.

“You will see people hanging themselves from these lovely gantries of ours.”

The Star