Civil disobedience wins in battle against Gauteng’s e-tolls

The e-toll gantry on the N1 highway near the Rigel Avenue offramp in Pretoria. Picture: Jacques Naude/African News Agency (ANA)

The e-toll gantry on the N1 highway near the Rigel Avenue offramp in Pretoria. Picture: Jacques Naude/African News Agency (ANA)

Published Oct 31, 2022


Pretoria - Finance Minister Enoch Godongwana last week finally confirmed the death of e-tolls on some Gauteng highways, which had been a long time coming since the system went live in December 2013.

Since their introduction, the e-tolls have been met with resistance from road users, some of whom defied a call by the government to pay for driving through the gantries.

The incumbent Transport Minister, Fikile Mbalula, and his predecessors had to grapple with a public outcry from motorists, civil society and political parties for the government to scrap the e-tolls. The South African National Roads Agency (Sanral) had tough times as it struggled to enforce hefty bills on motorists refusing to pay. Reports indicated that the e-toll payment compliance rate was just 17.7%.

At the forefront of the decade-long defiance has been the Organisation Undoing Tax Abuse (Outa), which was adamant that the e-tolls system was unlawful and not sustainable.

Cosatu has also spoken against the e-tolling system. Last year, the trade union threatened to protest on election day if the government continued failing to listen to calls to scrap the system.

The South African Federation of Trade Unions also opposed to e-tolls.

Joining the fray was the Gauteng government and provincial ANC, under then premier David Makhura, who, in 2014, established an advisory panel to review the socio-economic impact of e-tolling. While the hearings allowed opposition parties to criticise the system, the governing party seemed divided.

For example, the finance minister at the time, Tito Mboweni, once said that the e-tolls were “here to stay”.

The Gauteng ANC formed a task team in August 2018 to evaluate the scrapping of e-tolls.

The battle against the e-tolls was fought, especially by Outa, through courts, official inquiries, across social media, in protests on bridges and outside government offices. The organisation took up legal fights on behalf of thousands of motorists taken to courts by Sanral for unpaid e-toll bills.

However, Godongwana effectively ended e-tolls by announcing the government would pay off 70% of Sanral’s debt, amounting to R47 billion and interest obligations, while the Gauteng provincial government would contribute 30% or R14bn.

In his Medium-Term Budget Policy Statement, Godongwana tabled bills that transferred R23.736bn from the national purse to Sanral to pay off government-guaranteed debt.

Outa chief executive Wayne Duvenage said the end of the road for e-tolls was the “biggest, longest campaign that ran for over 10 years, supported by thousands of contributing supporters”.

“This is a massive victory for civil society, and Outa thanks every person who stood up against this irrational scheme,” he said.

Outa’s lawyers are representing motorists in 2 028 cases in which Sanral issued summonses, 99 in the High Court and 1 929 in the Magistrate’s Courts, defending claims by Sanral of over R265 059 636.15 in unpaid e-tolls bills.

Mbalula, who welcomed the announcement, in June pronounced that consultations with the Godongwana were at an advanced stage to finalise the decision on e-tolls.

Mbalula and the Gauteng government are expected to provide detailed information on the road ahead for the e-tolls and the Gauteng Freeway Improvement Project in the next week.

In a media statement, civil rights organisation AfriForum said its 10-year struggle to get rid of e-tolls had reached a satisfying end. “Although e-toll has not been officially scrapped, the fact that the state is taking over e-tolls debts for all practical purposes means the end of this system,” the organisation said.

AfriForum said it donated R100 000 to a court case to have e-toll declared illegal, which led to an initial interdict against the implementation of this system.

Gauteng Premier Panyaza Lesufi, who welcomed the developments, said: “We believe this is an important victory as it brings great relief to the people of Gauteng who have had to bear the brunt of paying e-tolls for roads which serve a national purpose.”

Pretoria News