File picture: Thobile Mathonsi

 

Johannesburg - The ANC in Joburg is troubled by the impact that the controversial e-tolling system is having on its members and the prospects of the economic growth of the city, warning: “We can’t be arrogant and not to listen to the people.”

The party is pushing back on the decision it admitted “it agreed to years back to look at holistic approach to provide infrastructure for economic growth”, with a renewed hope that the government will listen.

This comes a week after Transport Minister Dipuo Peters said the national government would not scrap or review the user-pay system as a funding mechanism for urban roads, in response to a panel set up by Gauteng Premier David Makhura to assess e-tolling impact.

Over the past weeks, civil society movements, economists, big business, trade unions, opponents of urban tolling and the public in Gauteng have all stepped forward to reject the implementation of e-tolls.

Now the matter is threatening to become a divisive point in the ruling party debates ahead of local government elections in 2016. The ANC’s Joburg region and in Gauteng have already identified e-tolling as one of the reasons behind its votes decline during the May national elections.

Political pressure has been piling up on South African National Roads Agency Limited (Sanral) with the ANC Youth League in Gauteng and Cosatu supporting the work of the advisory panel on e-tolls.

“It’s our own creation. We’ve got to find a way of dealing with its negative impact,” said Jolidee Matongo, ANC Joburg region spokesman. “It’s a real issue that bothers many of our members. It will ultimately affect us going forward.”

Matongo said the party has discussed the e-tolling not as stand-alone issue but as part of many other discussions and assessments made after the May elections. However, ANC secretary-general Gwede Mantashe said in May that the implementation of e-toll system could not be used as an excuse for a decline in the number of votes it received in the province in the elections.

Matongo said it was difficult to say whether the matter had brought divisions because it had not yet been discussed widely on its own, but there was a “great concern about it”.

The party’s stance on the system, however, was similar to that of the city, which made a damning assessment of the e-tolls in its submissions to the premier’s advisory panel.

The city suggested the e-tolls would diminish the emerging middle class – the cornerstone of its future growth – and dampen their approximately R17 billion they generated to economic growth of the city.

Several ANC members in Joburg who cannot be named told the Saturday Star this week that at meetings, some officials had encouraged other members to refuse to pay their e-toll bills.

“We know that no one is going to be arrested or jailed for failing to pay,” said one ANC official. “If the issue is still alive at the time that the local government elections come, it would be a surprise to all of us because the system is totally against the strategic position of the ANC to attain its objectives.”

Another official said e-tolling would reverse all the gains made since 1994 in Joburg, particularly for the black middle class that was trying to catch up with white counterparts.

“Also, it is a bad idea to toll urban areas where there are majority frequent users inside sub-urban areas,” he said. “The tolled roads cover a significant proportion where our people live and do business, especially the black population.”

Meanwhile Sanral has said that it wrote to Makhura requesting to meet him over his decision to establish the panel assessing the impact of the e-tolls.

Saturday Star