File picture: Karen Sandison / Independent Media.

Johannesburg - There is a province at stake, and the battle for it is going to be fought over 187km of highway.

E-tolls have become a political albatross, despised by motorists and the Gauteng ANC alike, but there was confusion this week when new Finance Minister Tito Mboweni told South Africans they had to pay to use the province’s tolled highways.

The finance minister’s remarks have created confusion over what the ruling party’s stance is with the system that has been partly blamed for causing the ANC to lose Johannesburg in the last municipal elections.

With national elections looming, the concern is that e-tolls will further damage the ANC, with the real prospect that the party could lose Gauteng.

“The problem is that ANC is sending out mixed messages,” said political analyst Daniel Silke. “This comes at a time when the ANC in Gauteng is trying to take advantage of the resistance that has built up over e-tolls.”

The Gauteng ANC issued a statement in response to Mboweni’s remarks on e-tolls on Thursday.

““The e-tolls have not worked and the ANC in Gauteng does not support them. Let there be no confusion, they are not part of the future of this province. We will have to work out how to pay for the roads but not through the e-tolls,” Premier David Makhura said.

He added that the ANC Gauteng’s 13th provincial conference had mandated the premier to engage with the president to find a solution to e-tolls.

This comes just a week after the SA National Roads Agency Limited (Sanral) presented to Parliament’s transport committee several proposals on how they could force motorists to pay their outstanding e-toll bills. One of these was that vehicle licences be withheld.

The Organisation Undoing Tax Abuse (Outa) estimates that only one in four motorists are paying their e-toll bills. It is also becoming more costly for Sanral to recover these bills.

“The only people making money out of this are the lawyers,” said Wayne Duvenage, Outa’s chief executive.

“The ANC lost a lot of votes in Gauteng in 2016. They fell from 63% to 54%, and e-tolls were a big feature in that. It has been a noose around the neck of the ANC,” said Duvenage.

Political analyst Shadrack Gutto said that if the ANC didn’t scrap e-tolls there would be two hurdles they would have to face, the first being general elections next year followed two years later by municipal elections.

“They have a difficult road to travel,” said Gutto.“I don’t think Tito should have said that.”

But there was a possibility that the ANC could use e-tolls as a political trump card, Duvenage said.

“There could be a situation where the ANC claims victory after pulling the plug on e-tolls. I can’t see any other reason why they are continuing with this dead horse.”

Silke feels that a fine memorandum might be more on the cards. This would not scrap e-tolls but fudge the issue enough so that voters would be distracted and still vote for the ANC.

But Duvenage believes that Gauteng’s voters will see through any political trickery.

Saturday Star