Image: Mxolisi Madela

Kimberley - As South Africans head to their coastal holiday destinations they will be at the mercy of financially struggling municipalities who use motorists’ road infringements to fill their coffers, with one Northern Cape town situated on the N1 reportedly issuing more than R50 million in fines last year.

The Ubuntu Municipality, which is situated on the route between Cape Town and Johannesburg and includes the towns of Victoria West, Richmond and Loxton, last year reportedly issued R52 million in fines, which makes up 49 percent of its revenue.

According to Code4SA, most of the speed trapping done by the municipality’s traffic officers is done on the N1 and N12.

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Adi Eyal, from Code4SA, said that while traffic accidents in South Africa were a serious cause for concern, accounting for around 31.9 deaths per 100 000 people, speed traps often seemed to be engineered to trick drivers instead of aiming to reduce road deaths.

“To explore this, I decided to investigate whether municipalities are cynically using fines as an excuse to raise revenue.”

Using information supplied by National Treasury, Eyal was able to determine that during the financial year ending June 2014, R1 billion in revenue from fines was reported by municipalities.

“According to the previous minister of transport, however, only 13 percent of traffic fines are actually paid. The value of fines actually issued could therefore be much larger.”

TRICKING MOTORISTS

According to Eyal, the Richmond Traffic Department (in Ubuntu) often sets up cameras in really tricky places and it is very easy to be caught by their cameras.

“Fine amounts are often in the thousands of rands, even when driving 20kms over the speed limit.” He added that according to Arrive Alive, fines amounts are not regulated and a municipality can charge anything they like.

“A quick search on Google suggests that Ubuntu municipality is notorious for their traffic fines. Since the municipality is likely to be far away from where you live, it is unlikely that you will defend yourself at the local magistrate’s court.”

Fines issued by the Ubuntu Municipality amount to R2 821.10 per capita – as opposed to the national average which is R64.20 per capita. This means that the value of the fines issued is 44 times more than the national average.

MAJOR SOURCE OF INCOME

The municipality’s revenue from fines is R52 million, which is 49 percent of its total revenue of R107 million. “That suggests that it is considered to be a major source of income. Their population is under 20 000 people so their rates base is pretty low.”

The Emthanjeni Municipality (De Aar) collects R19.5 million in fines a year, which is 11 percent of its overall revenue. Its fine collection rate per capita is also 11 percent higher than the national average.

Eyal points out further that that municipalities in the Western Cape seem to earn a lot more from fines than municipalities in other provinces.

“Driving through the Eastern Cape and Free State seems to be relatively safe (from a fines point of view).”

Howard Dembovsky, chairman of the activism group Justice Project, said investment in a speed camera could earn a municipality “millions”.

Treasury spokesman Thabisa Whittington said municipalities were legally required to generate their own revenue.

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