Gauteng Premier Nomvula Mokonyane has lashed out at Transport Minister Sbu Ndebele in disputes over the implementation of new tolls. Picture: Bongiwe Mchunu

Gauteng Premier Nomvula Mokonyane has thrown her weight behind the ANC in Gauteng, criticising Transport Minister S’bu Ndebele for introducing the much-maligned new tolls set to impact negatively on Africa’s economic hub.

Mokonyane said, on the eve of her State of the Province address, that she had asked for a meeting with Ndebele to express her disquiet and offer suggestions on how she thought the furore should be sorted out.

But political observers quickly cautioned against ANC members taking populist stances in the year of elections, saying Ndebele and the Sanral could not have proceeded with the policy without a go-ahead from the ANC which now, through Mokonyane and, earlier in the week, Gauteng secretary David Makhura, is contradicting the same policy.

The bilateral meeting, which will be held in Mokonyane’s office in Johannesburg, comes as Ndebele warned the tolling system would be implemented across the country.

“We believe there are various options we can focus on,” said Mokonyane, among which was the establishment of a reliable public transport service “which we still don’t have”.

“Gautrain,” she added, “is but one of the elements (of public transport), but not a solution to our problems. And therefore you can’t say because of Gautrain we are ready to toll.”

Her comments came in the wake of Ndebele’s statements that Gauteng residents who did not like the price of the toll roads could take a train, bus or taxi as they had more options than other residents across the country. Ndebele, singling out Gautrain, said: “It is not as if people in that province don’t have a choice… There is a very clear choice that the whole continent does not have.”

Mokonyane hit back.

“Tolling will remain, but the issue is the implementation of the tolling strategy. We don’t want to have a strategy that will impact negatively on our economy, where people (especially businesses) may just easily move away from our province and consider other options.”

Asked if she wasn’t part of the ANC collective that approved the project in 1999, she said: “The tolling strategy in Gauteng was approved about four years ago.” She said the challenge for Ndebele was how to make it operational without antagonising business and people, especially on the issue of costing.

The toll gates are part of the R16 billion government project, implemented by the South African National Roads Agency, to fix the province’s roads. Mokonyane has been in the Gauteng legislature since 1994 and served in various positions in its cabinet, including as MEC for Agriculture, Conservation and Environment in 1996 and Housing MEC between 2004 and 2009 before she became premier.

Transport department director-general George Mahlalela said the government was not disputing citizen’s concerns and was open to suggestions.

“We are not disputing that (the tariff). We are saying let’s use this period to sit down and see how we can mitigate it.”

He said “the project was funded by debt” which had to be paid back.

“The fiscus can’t carry us. So we are trying to find other ways.” - Sunday Independent